A federal drug defendant was not entitled to a detailed explanation from a judge of why a lower sentence wasn’t imposed in his case, the Supreme Court ruled today. The case involved Adaucto Chavez-Meza, who was sentenced to 135 months in prison, but after the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered the guidelines range for his offenses, the trial judge reduced the term to 114 months.
Chavez-Meza thought he deserved an even-lower sentence, but Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking for a 5-3 majority, said that, “The judge’s awareness of the arguments, his consideration of the relevant sentencing factors, and the intuitive reason why he picked a sentence above the very bottom of the new range, the judge’s explanation (minimal as it was) fell within the scope of the lawful professional judgment that the law confers upon the sentencing judge.”
Dissenting, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited what he called a “serious problem—the difficulty for prisoners and appellate courts in ascertaining a district court’s reasons for imposing a sentence when the court fails to state those reasons on the record.”
Defendants and defense attorneys will be troubled that [Chief Justice John Roberts] along with Justices Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were all willing to embrace the “close enough for government work” approach in the case, says sentencing law expert Douglas Berman of Ohio State University in his Sentencing and Public Policy blog.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.