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Monday, December 10, 2007

Big Sentencing News

Acting much more quickly than expected, the Supreme Court issued opinions this morning in the Gall and Kimbrough cases, which were argued earlier this fall. The opinions are available at SCOTUS blog. I've just skimmed the opinions, but both represent important wins for federal criminal defendants. (In the interests of full disclosure I should add here that I co-authored an amicus brief with Mark Osler of Baylor in support of Mr. Kimbrough.) In Kimbrough, the Court held that district court judges are not bound by the draconian sentencing guidelines applicable to crack cocaine offenses. (I refer here to the infamous 100:1 ratio, which relates to the relative severity of treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses.) The Court's opinion makes much of the fact that the Sentencing Commission itself has disavowed the 100:1 ratio and has recently acted to soften the crack-powder disparities. In Gall, the Court overturned an Eighth Circuit decision reversing a sentence significantly below the applicable guidelines range. The Eighth Circuit employed an "extraordinary circumstances" test, holding that extraordinary variances from the guidelines must be justified by extraorindary facts. The Supreme Court held, however, that the Eighth Circuit's approach was insufficiently deferential to the sentencing judge and found that the sentence imposed on Mr. Gall satisfied the reasonableness standard of appellate review.

I will comment further after I have had a chance to digest the opinions more fully.

Posted by Michael O'Hear on December 10, 2007 at 11:14 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink


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