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June 21, 2006

Notable Fifth Circuit ruling on sentencing rights

The Fifth Circuit addresses sentencing rights and procedures in the course of rejecting a defendant's challenge to his sentence in US v. Jackson, No. 05-11094 (5th Cir. June 20, 2006) (available here). Here is a choice snippet (cites omitted):

Although Jackson claims that his constitutional rights at sentencing had been violated, he relies primarily upon precedent interpreting the scope of a defendant's constitutional rights at trial.  It is well-established, however, that a defendant's rights at sentencing differ considerably from his pre-conviction rights.  At sentencing, a defendant has a protected due process right to review and object to a PSR, but no absolute right to present witnesses.  Here, Jackson had the opportunity to examine the PSR, make objections, and present affidavits to support his claim that he did not assault his girlfriend.  Under the circumstances, Jackson's due process rights were appropriately protected, and the district court was not required to receive additional witness testimony before sentencing.

Tellingly, all the cites in Jackson pre-date the Supreme Court's Apprendi line of decisions.  As I have stressed in "Beyond Blakely and Booker: Pondering Modern Sentencing Process" (discussed here and here), an important enduring question which emerges from SCOTUS's recent sentencing jurisprudence is whether, when and how due process issues will be addressed after Blakely and Booker.   Sadly, Jackson suggests courts are not even directly grappling with these questions.

The factual dispute at issue in Jackson should especially irk Blakely fans (and Blakely Justices).  In Jackson, the judge in a felon-in-possession case increased the defendant's federal guideline sentence after essentially convicting him of a state felony that was never charged or prosecuted.  I have to think the Framers would be truly aghast to discover that federal judges have the power to deprive a citizen's liberty based on the judge's finding, after receiving only limited evidence at a truncated federal sentencing hearing, that the citizen committed a state felony.

June 21, 2006 at 11:05 AM | Permalink


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