The U.S. Supreme Court has breathed new life into a somewhat battered federal sentencing-guidelines system, says the Christian Science Monitor. In a decision likely to encourage judges to rely on the guidelines, the court yesterday ruled against a North Carolina man whose lawyers argued that judges had placed too much emphasis on the guidelines in sentencing him. The court said appeals court judges can presume that a criminal sentence falling within the guidelines range is a reasonable punishment.
The case had been expected to help clarify for lower court judges how they should apply the guidelines after a 2005 high court ruling that had appeared to make them advisory. Appellate judges assessing the reasonableness of sentences can give greater weight to the sentencing guidelines because they represent a two-track approach to sentencing laid out by Congress, Justice Stephen Breyer said for the court. The opinion said the guidelines are more than advisory but less than mandatory. In dissent, Justice David Souter said the decision will encourage trial judges to use the guidelines as if they were mandatory in order to hand down appeal-proof sentences. Justice Souter said the high court should leave it to Congress to rewrite the guidelines.