As the Supreme Court studies the constitutionality of federal sentencing guidelines, federal judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers have devised strategies to keep the wheels of justice turning and to protect their respective interests regardless of the outcome, says the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles has taken initial steps to appeal 24 sentences handed down since the high court’s June decision on sentencing guidelines in Washington State. The Justice Department argues that the Washington ruling does not apply to U.S. sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors are incorporating into indictments allegations of aggravating conduct that in the past would have been raised at sentencing hearings. They are returning to the grand jury to obtain superseding indictments in pending cases that have not yet gone to trial. It means that prosecutors are bearing an increased burden of proof, said Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney George Cardona in Los Angeles. Because more than 97 percent of L.A. federal criminal cases end in guilty pleas, the U.S. attorney is including waivers in proposed plea agreements. A defendant agrees to be sentenced under the old sentencing uidelines that are now under a cloud. Maria Stratton, chief federal public defender in Los Angeles, objects. “If the guidelines are unconstitutional, they are unconstitutional, and our clients cannot and should not be sentenced under them,” she told the U.S. attorney’s office.