Blakely’s Wake: Should the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Be Saved or Scrapped?

August 26, 2004

The federal criminal justice system is in disarray. Each week some 1,200 people are sentenced in federal court, but the legality of these sentences is suddenly in doubt. That is because the Supreme Court recently held that the constitutional right to trial by jury requires that any factor that can be used to increase the amount of prison time that a defendant will serve must be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The ruling in Blakely v. Washington initially invalidated the sentencing system in the State of Washington, but it has called into question the power of federal judges to make certain factual findings and increase prison time on the basis of those findings. Chief Judge Young had already declared the federal guidelines unconstitutional and now the Justice Department is urging the Supreme Court to clarify its ruling and preserve the federal sentencing regime. Please join us for a discussion of whether the federal sentencing rules ought to be saved or scrapped.

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