Supreme Court hears arguments on federal sentencing rules

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in two cases. In Dillon v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the federal sentencing guidelines [materials] are binding when a federal judge imposes a new sentence. Under the Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in United States v. Booker [opinion text], the guidelines are advisory only, but the court has never ruled on Booker's application to a sentence modification proceeding. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that Booker should not apply in sentence modification proceedings, upholding Percy Dillon's modified sentence. Counsel for the petitioner, Dillon, argued:

Sentencing commission policy cannot override this Court's clear and unambiguous directive to courts to treat the guidelines as advisory in all cases moving forward, and any interpretation of section 3582(c) that permits the commission to mandate sentences must be rejected, not only as matter of statutory stare decisis, but because it would violate the Sixth Amendment.
Counsel for the United States argued:
The provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act at issue in this case, unlike the provisions that were at issue in Booker, do not govern the imposition of sentence. They instead provide a discretionary mechanism for the exercise of leniency for defendants who have already been sentenced.
In Barber v. Thomas [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the Sentencing Reform Act [18 USC § 3624(b), text] requires the federal prison system to calculate good time served credits based on the sentence imposed. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] has been interpreting "term of imprisonment" to mean time served, rather than sentence imposed, as it is interpreted throughout federal sentencing statutes. The BOP's interpretation has resulted in fewer days of available credit each year of the sentence. Lower courts remain split on the question. Counsel for the petitioners argued that, "[t]he flaw in the Bureau of Prisons system is that they do not give credit towards the term of imprisonment as this statute in 3624(b) dictates." Counsel for the respondent argued in favor of the BOP's system.


 

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