Supreme Court Strikes Down Mandatory Provisions of Federal Sentencing Guidelines

February 1, 2005

In one fell swoop, the United States Supreme Court struck down the mandatory provisions of the eighteen-year old Federal Sentencing Guidelines (hereinafter "Guidelines") while preserving the remaining Guidelines law as an essentially advisory scheme to be considered by federal district judges in sentencing defendants. United States v. Booker and United States v. Fanfan, 2005 WL 50108 (Jan. 12, 2005)(hereafter "Booker). Relying on its prior decision in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. __ (2004), the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Stevens, held that the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury applies to the Guidelines and that juries, not judges, must find facts relevant to sentencing. In a second opinion authored by Justice Breyer, the Court rejected the defendants' assertion that the procedural mandates of Blakely and precedent cited therein could be "engrafted" onto the Guidelines in their present form. Instead, the Court "severed" and "excised" both the provision that had made the Guidelines compulsory upon sentencing courts, and the provision setting forth the standard of appellate review, from the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines