Thursday, March 28, 2002

shortened sentences?
One of the most famous criminal cases decided by the US Supreme Court was Gideon v. Wainwright. It focused upon whether a defendant who couldn't afford to hire an attorney had a right to have one appointed to him or her by a court.

The answer was yes. Those simple three letters eventually lead to the release of more than 2000 other prisoners who were forced to represent themselves at trial in Florida, because they couldn't afford an attorney.

The Supreme Court now has a case before it that might shorten thousands of sentences.

Under the sentencing guidelines that judges use in federal courts, and many state courts (including Delaware), a sentence longer than what is called for in the guidelines may be given to someone if there are "aggravating" circumstances present at the time of the offense. For instance, if a Judge thinks that a crime was a hate crime, he might step outside of the guidelines and impose a longer sentence. In some jurisdictions, if a gun was used at the time of the offense, it might have been considered an aggravating factor which would allow for a longer sentence than what set forth in guidelines. The Supreme Court is being asked to determine if a jury should be the ones deciding if these aggravating circumstances existed.

Will this case make the United States Sentencing Commission's What's New page? Well.... that will depend upon how the Court decides.

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