Federal judges have been improperly adding time to criminals’ sentences, the Supreme Court ruled today, according to the Associated Press. The decision puts in puts in doubt sentencing guidelines that date to the 1980s, and sends the issue back to Congress. On a 5-4 vote, the court said its ruling last June that state juries – not judges – should consider factors that can add years to defendants’ prison sentences applies as well to the federal system. The high court stopped short of striking down the federal system.
Justice Stephen Breyer said the federal sentencing system is at least in part invalid because it forces judges to use the guidelines. About 64,000 people are sentenced in federal courts each year under a system that had been challenged as unconstitutional in a pair of cases. Reporter Lyle Denniston of Scotusblog (www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog) quoted Breyer as saying that the federal guidelines can no longer be mandatory, but can continue to operate “in a manner consistent with congressional intent.” Breyer said, “The ball now lies in Congress’ court.”