A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Berman [Ohio State]: The FSG are dead, long live the FSG!

Douglas Berman [Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University]:

"I am trying to come up with a simple take on Booker, and here it is: five Justices (the Apprendi/Blakely five) say the federal sentencing guidelines can no longer operate as mandatory sentencing rules (which is clearly how they were designed and intended to operate), but five Justices (the Apprendi/Blakely dissenters + Justice Ginsburg) have crafted the only possible remedy that would operate in a manner as close to the old system as possible.

Particularly significant, in my view, is Justice Breyer's repeated statement that, even as an advisory system, the Act still "requires judges to consider the Guidelines," Breyer for Court at 16-17, and that "district courts, while not bound to apply the Guidelines, must consult those Guidelines and take them into account when sentencing."  Id. at 21-22.  Thus, it appears that the FSG must continue to operate as a (shadow?) sentencing system, with presentence reports prepared (and fully litigated?) as in the past, and perhaps even with sentencing judges having to make on the record findings of what the FSG would provide. 

(Indeed, as I read Justice Breyer's opinion for the Court, I think there is an argument that a district judge who fails to make (shadow?) rulings about the applicable guideline range could perhaps be subject to per se reversal.  I also suppose that defendants and prosecutors might still be able to, and actually need to, appeal the (shadow?) guideline rulings because the reasonableness of the impose sentence on appeal would depend on the proper applicable guideline range.)

Also noteworthy, Justice Breyer describes a largely unchanged role for the Sentencing Commission in our new advisory world, since it "remains in place, writing Guidelines, collecting information about actual district court sentencing decisions, undertaking research, and revising the Guidelines accordingly."  Id. at 21.  But what if appellate courts start finding various of the USSC guidelines unreasonable?  What good would new guidelines do?  (Indeed, I wonder if (when?) some circuit panels will have ocassion to address the reasonableness of existing provisions prohibiting or greatly restricting the consideration of various potential mitigating offender characteristics like medical conditions and family circumstances.)...." [January 12, 2005; Sentencing Law and Policy has the post]

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

Support JURIST

We rely on our readers to keep JURIST running

 Donate now!

About Professional Commentary

Professional Commentary is JURIST's platform for newsmakers, activists and legal experts to comment on national and international legal developments.

Hotline welcomes submissions, inquiries and comments at professionalcommentary@jurist.org.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.