Hundreds of federal prisoners in 9 western states must be resentenced, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled yesterday. The Los Angeles Times said the case was the first from the court after last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on federal sentencing guidelines. The high court conclusion that the guidelines are not binding means that judges are free in pending cases to give shorter or longer terms. The ruling left unclear how to handle the cases of prisoners who had already been sentenced under the guidelines.
Federal appeals courts around the country are weighing the issue. “Every circuit has it in front of them, and every circuit will have to speak to it,” said law Prof. Douglas Berman of Ohio State University. The 9th Circuit interpreted the Supreme Court ruling broadly. It would be only the “truly exceptional case that will not require” resentencing, the unanimous decision said. That puts the 9th Circuit in line with three other federal appeals courts that have ruled on the issue: the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., the 6th in Cincinnati and the 2nd in New York City. Only the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, which ruled Friday, has taken a narrower stand. The Supreme Court may have to resolve the disagreement among the appeals courts.