The Effect of the Booker Case on Federal Sentencing
United States v. Booker was a United States Supreme Court decision that had to do with criminal sentencing. The court’s decision was that the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial requires that, other than a prior conviction, only facts admitted by a defendant or proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury can be used to calculate a sentence, whether the defendant has pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. The maximum sentence a judge may impose is a sentence based upon the facts admitted by the defendant or proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
The provision of the federal sentencing statute that required federal district judges to impose a sentence within the Federal Guidelines range was struck down by the Court in a split-majority ruling. This ruling was a result of a ruling made six months earlier in Blakely v. Washington, in which the Court had imposed the same requirement on a guidelines sentencing scheme that was used in the state of Washington.
The Blakely decision came from Apprendi v. New Jersey, where the Court held that, except for prior convictions, any fact that increases the defendant’s punishment above the statutory maximum punishment had to be presented to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In modern sentencing, the “statutory maximum” is the greatest sentence the judge can impose based solely on the jury’s factfinding.
If any facts are presented exposing the defendant to punishment above the guideline range, they must be submitted to a jury and be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Booker case really had to do with a number of different issues, but the main one that I’m focusing on for purposes of this section is the fact that judges were restricted before the Booker case in regard to sentencing. Before Booker, judges were limited as far as what sentence they could give a defendant during the sentencing hearing.
They were restricted in that they had to keep their sentence within the federal sentencing guidelines and this was something that the court in Booker struct down. Now judges have to consult and consider the federal guidelines along with the position from the defense and the prosecution and the probation department. However, once they’ve made that consideration, they then have the discretion and the ability to pretty much give whatever sentence they deem appropriate as long as they can justify it.
This is a huge departure from cases before the Booker ruling and really gives the judge a lot of power to do what they want in any given case. This is why it’s so important to have a good criminal defense attorney and make sure that your attorney gets out all the mitigating factors relating to you and your situation.
Judge now, if they feel like the government is not being fair in their recommendation as to the sentence, can give a sentence below what the government is recommending and below what the probation department is recommending. The key though is for your attorney to paint you in a good light and to show the court that you are a good person who has a lot to offer to society and that whatever has brought you before the federal sentencing court is an aberration and something that will never happen again.
Any Limits on Judge’s Sentencing Relating to Booker Case?
Again, the Booker ruling has given judges a lot of leeway to give whatever sentence they deem appropriate. Obviously, judges just can’t go outside the statutory scheme. In other words, if a person had a maximum sentence of twenty years on a given charge, a judge could not give more than that statutory maximum. There’s a number of other limitations that apply.
However, in reality, what I have seen is that most judges do sentence within the guidelines, but they usually, in my opinion, will decide what they think the fair sentence is and then they will rule accordingly on downward departures and other arguments by the defense and the prosecution in order to get to a sentence that they deem appropriate in relation to a particular defendant.
So, this Booker case I think was a win for the defense, because this gives us an opportunity to argue for the lowest possible sentence without any limitations being placed on the judge, because I feel like the Booker decision, the prosecutors had a lot of power because they would offer a plea agreement and that plea agreement would come with limitations and that would hand-cuff the federal judge in a lot of these cases that I’ve handled and other attorneys have handled.
Now, if you can put together a good argument and a good sentencing memorandum, then you stand a good chance if the judge is reasonable to get the lowest possible sentence for your client. So, what I have you do is, you come in, we go over everything, I get all the information regarding your criminal history and the surrounding circumstances of your case because a lot of times the federal government and their investigation doesn’t get it right and doesn’t have all the mitigating factors related to you, only the aggravating and negative factors.
So, once we get a full picture of what happened, then we put together our argument and we make the moves that are necessary to get you out of the federal system as fast as possible and get you the lowest possible sentence.