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August 20, 2004

The future of federal sentencing?

In a decision that is fascinating and breaks important new ground, US District Judge Jerome Simandle in US v. Harris, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16239 (D.N.J. Aug. 18, 2004), explains the whys and hows of his use of a jury trial to establish sentencing factors in a complicated fraud case in which the government completed presenting at trial its case-in-chief on the very day Blakley was decided. The long opinion, which can be accessed here, is best summarized using the introductory paragraph of Judge Simandle:

On June 24, 2004, after twelve months of pretrial proceedings, ten days of trial, and the testimony of twenty-seven witnesses, the government completed its case-in-chief in this complex criminal case involving a conspiracy to produce and pass over ten million dollars in fraudulent money orders, and rested. On the same day, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Blakely v. Washington, 124 S. Ct. 2531 (2004), a decision which called into serious doubt the constitutionality of the United States Sentencing Guidelines which permit a district judge to take into consideration, when sentencing a defendant, certain aggravating sentencing factors which he finds have been established by a preponderance of the evidence. The Blakely Court, considering a similar sentencing scheme in the State of Washington, held that a criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury applies to aggravating sentencing factors, such that any fact, other than a prior conviction, that increases a sentence beyond the base offense range authorized by statute, unless stipulated by the defendant, must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This Opinion details the steps that this Court took to manage the continuing trial before it and to protect the rights of the five defendants involved, in light of the new legal landscape (and indeed the uncertainties) created by the Blakely decision. The defendants have asserted that no sentencing factors trial should be convened because these factors were not squarely presented to a grand jury and contained in the Indictment. The Court rejected that argument and conducted the sentencing phase trial to the jury after due notice to defendants, for reasons stated herein.

The story (or should I say saga) of this Harris case is factually and legally quite interesting, and Judge Simandle is to be complimented for his thoughtful work both on the fly during trial and in this written opinion. Has he given us a glimpse into the future of federal sentencing?

August 20, 2004 at 12:41 AM | Permalink


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I have already witnesses Booker and Blakely ignored - I have an upcoming sentence in front og Judge Simandle -I wonder what I can expect - Attorney, William D. Ware

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