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April 26, 2005

SCOTUS debates (in footnotes) Blakely/Booker pipeline issue

Though the two criminal law decisions decided today by the Supreme Court are surely noteworthy for various other reasons (basics here and here), a bit of sparing in the footnotes of Pasquantino v. US about how to handle a Blakely claim has my attention.  Here is the final footnote of Justice Thomas' opinion for the majority of the Court, which affirmed the defendants' convictions in Pasquantino

Petitioners argue in a footnote that their sentences should be vacated in light of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U. S. ___ (2004).  Brief for Petitioners 26, n. 29.  Petitioners did not raise this claim before the Court of Appeals or in their petition for certiorari.  We therefore decline to address it. See, e.g., Lopez v. Davis, 531 U. S. 230, 244, n. 6 (2001) (declining to address "matter . . . not raised or decided below, or presented in the petition for certiorari"); Whitfield v. United States, 543 U. S. ___ (2005) (affirming federal convictions despite the imposition of sentence enhancements, see Brief for Petitioners therein, O. T. 2004, No. 03–1293, etc., p. 7, n. 6).

Here is the footnote retort on this issue in Justice Ginsburg's dissent:

I note that petitioners' sentences were enhanced on the basis of judicial factfindings, in violation of the Sixth Amendment. See United States v. Booker, 543 U. S. ___, ___ (2005) (STEVENS, J., for the Court) (slip op., at 5-9); see also Blakely v. Washington, 542 U. S. ___ (2004).  Despite the Court's affirmance of their convictions, therefore, the petitioners may be entitled to resentencing. See Booker, 543 U. S., at ___, ___ (BREYER, J., for the Court) (slip op., at 25-26). The Court declines to address the defendants' plea for resentencing, stating that "[p]etitioners did not raise this claim before the Court of Appeals or in their petition for certiorari." See ante, at 21, n. 14. This omission was no fault of the defendants, however, as the petition in this case was filed and granted well before the Court decided Blakely.  Petitioners thus raised Blakely at the earliest possible point: in their merits briefing.  The rule that we do not consider issues not raised in the petition is prudential, not jurisdictional, see Izumi Seimitsu Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha v. U. S. Philips Corp., 510 U. S. 27, 32-33 (1993) (per curiam), and a remand on the Blakely-Booker question would neither prejudice the Government nor require this Court to delve into complex issues not passed on below.

I guess we should not be surprised to find that the Supreme Court is split on this "pipeline" issue.  Also, these comments provide some interesting tea leaves for lower courts to read concerning (1) how to handle various Blakely-Booker pipeline issues, and (2) whether the Supreme Court may ever grant cert on questions like plain error or other pipeline concerns (prior musing on this issue are here).

April 26, 2005 at 10:54 AM | Permalink


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Doesn't bode well for a favorable retroactivity decision

Posted by: rob | Apr 26, 2005 1:00:53 PM

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