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October 5, 2004

Big doings from the District of Oregon

I had been thinking that there had not been any big rulings from the federal district courts lately, and then today United States v. Detwiler, CR 03-372-PA (D. Or. Oct. 5, 2004), arrives in my in-box. In Detwiler, Senior US District Judge Owen M. Panner declares the federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutional.

Ho hum, you might say in our post-Blakely world. But Judge Panner's holding is based on Congress's passage of the Feeney Amendment; he concludes that the "practical consequences of the Feeney Amendment is that, regardless of what it may say on the office door, the Sentencing Commission is now a captive of the Executive Branch" and consequently the federal sentencing system is unconstitutional based upon separation of powers principles. Here's the opening of an opinion you can download below:

Pending before the court is Defendant's motion to declare the Feeney Amendment unconstitutional and to impose sentence under the pre-Feeney version of the federal Sentencing Guidelines. That motion is granted in part. I hold that:
1. The federal Sentencing Guidelines system, in its present form, is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers doctrine.
2. The defects are not severable.
3. The federal Sentencing Guidelines will be treated as true guidelines, and not mandates, when imposing sentence in this and all future cases, pending further directions from a higher court or the Congress.

More commentary later on what seems to be now another front in the on-going war between the US Congress and the Federal Judiciary over sentencing law and policy.
Download detwiler_opinion_order_final_corrected.pdf

October 5, 2004 at 08:18 PM | Permalink

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