A U.S. Supreme Court ruling yesterday in a case involving advisory federal sentencing guidelines “will likely prove to be a good thing for lots of other federal defendants” even though the defendant lost in the high court, says Ohio State University law Prof. Doug Berman. The justices, in an opinion by Sonia Sotomayor, rejected Pennsylvania drug convict Percy Dillon’s effort to reduce his sentence further because the U.S. Sentencing Commission had issued retroactive guidelines on crack cocaine cases. A trial judge had cut the term from 322 months to 270 months, but Dillon contended the judge should make it even lower.
Berman says a ruling in Dillon’s favor “would have led the Commission to be very chary about making any future guideline reductions retroactive.” Now that the commision “can clearly limit the extent of benefit previously sentenced defendants can get from new retroactive guidelines, the [panel] need no longer fear the consequences of making new improved guidelines retroactive,” he says. Berman says the case may benefit convicts if the commission “gets around to fixing some of the most troublesome and unduly severe aspects of the drug, fraud and child porn guidelines.”