The Supreme Court is likely to strike down federal sentencing rules because they allow judges, acting alone, to add to prison terms, the Los Angeles Times reports. Doing so could have broad ramifications, including the possibility that Congress might choose to impose stiff mandatory sentences for a variety of crimes. The justices seemed less certain at a hearing yesterday about what would take the guidelines’ place. “The whole reason for jury trials is we don’t trust judges,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, a leader of the unusual liberal-conservative coalition that is forcing a major change in how criminals are sentenced.
Scalia and Justice John Paul Stevens have spoken for a 5-4 majority in two cases that say judges may not increase a defendant’s prison term based on “aggravating factors” that were not introduced during the trial. Acting U.S. Solicitor Gen. Paul Clement said 1,200 sentences a week could be affected if the court says the rules are unconstitutional. Clement argued that trials would be more complicated if every significant factor had to be decided by a jury. U.S. courts have always relied on judges to weigh the factors that determine the proper punishment, he said.