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Reviewing the Booker Case: Sentencing Guidelines Are Advisory, Not Mandatory.

United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005)

Significance of this case: this case is significant for two reasons – 1) it made the Federal Sentencing Guidelines advisory instead of mandatory, and 2) it made the Sixth Amendment applicable to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Facts: Mr. Booker was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.  His criminal history and drug quantity resulted in a guidelines range of 210 to 262 months.  At sentencing the judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant possessed a greater amount of cocaine than the jury found and increased the sentence.

Holding: the section of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, 18 USCA 3553(b)(1) that makes the Guidelines mandatory is unconstitutional and the Guidelines are now advisory not mandatory; and the Sixth Amendment right to have any fact, other than a prior conviction, that raises the penalty beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Legal Analysis: the holding in this case clearly contained elements of the prior U.S. Supreme Court cases Apprendi v. New Jersey 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004).

The Apprendi Court had previously held that it was a constitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury where a New Jersey statute increased the maximum penalty of the defendant’s sentence based on the trial court’s finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed a crime.  Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Blakely Court had previously held that where a sentencing judge increased the sentence above the prescribed guideline range or beyond the statutory maximum based on an aggravating factor found by the judge and not admitted by defendant in his guilty plea The statutory maximum is the maximum that a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.

The Court specifically held that the Sixth Amendment, as construed in Blakely, does apply to the Sentencing Guidelines.  This means that when a sentencing judge uses any fact to increase or enhance a sentence beyond the statutory maximum that fact must have either been admitted by the defendant in his plea or been found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court concluded that the provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines that have the effect of making the Guidelines mandatory must be invalidated in order to allow the statute to operate in manner consistent with congressional intent.  The Court concluded that both 18 USCA § 3553(b)(1) and § 3742(e) must be severed and excised.  This modification of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines effectively makes the Guidelines advisory and no longer mandatory.  Sentencing courts will now be required to consider the Guidelines ranges, but will also be permitted to tailor the sentence in light of other statutory concerns.