Monday, March 14, 2011

Supreme Court Further Erodes Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The Supreme Court has given federal judges more leeway to depart from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to provide a real second chance to defendants who appear in front of them.  In 2004, Jason Pepper was sentenced to two years in prison and 5 years of supervised release for selling drugs.  At the time he was a 25 year old drug addict who was unemployed and estranged from his family.  His original sentence was 75 percent below the lightest sentence that he could have received according to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The original sentencing judge took note of Pepper's cooperation with authorities when he sentenced him.  The government appealed the sentence and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit said that his original sentence was too lenient and returned his case to the trial court for re-sentencing.  By the time of his second re-sentencing, Peppers had been released from prison, had been drug free for five years, attending college and gotten good grades, was a top employee at Sam's Club, had re-established a relationship with his father, was married and living with and supporting her daughter.  In spite of all the good things he had accomplished, Pepper was sentenced to an additional three years and sent back to prison.  The Court of Appeals found that according to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the remarkable progress that Peppers had made after he had been released from prison could not be considered in his re-sentencing.  The Supreme Court took Pepper's case and held that when a defendant's sentence has been set aside on appeal, a district court at re-sentencing may consider evidence of the defendant's rehabilitation after the initial sentence and that evidence may in appropriate cases, support a downward variance from the sentencing guidelines.  The court held that the most important thing that the court must do at sentencing is consider all available evidence to determine what punishment is best.  Now Pepper waits to be re-sentenced again.  He only had eight months when the Supreme Court got involved in his case but his marriage has fallen apart and he's about to start a new job.

The case is Pepper v. United States,09-6822.

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