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August 20 2004 - The Daily Press (VA)

Federal Magistrate In W.Va. Puts Sentencing Motions On Hold

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press Writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - At least 25 motions to adjust federal prison sentences are on hold as a federal magistrate awaits guidance on how a Supreme Court ruling will affect sentences.

The court's June ruling in Blakely v. Washington held that juries must decide any matter that can lengthen a sentence beyond the maximum set out in state sentencing guidelines unless the defendant admits to it.

To do otherwise violates a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, the 5-4 court majority said.

"The law concerning the applicability of the Blakely decision to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is in a state of uncertainty," U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary E. Stanley wrote, putting the motions on hold.

The move is in response to efforts -- primarily by prisoners representing themselves -- seeking to strike enhanced sentences given by judges in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

But those motions will have to wait until "rulings have been made by appellate courts concerning the applicability of the Blakely decision," Stanley ruled.

Even if it is determined that the decision applies to federal sentence guidelines, "it is not clear whether Blakely will apply to persons who were convicted and sentenced before Blakely was decided," Stanley wrote.

One example of the motions was submitted by Carlos Reyes, who is being held at the Schuylkill prison in Minersville, Pa.

Reyes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of re-entry of a deported alien in 2000. He was sentenced in January 2001 to 20 years in prison for the drug charge and 10 years for the immigration charge, according to court documents.

Reyes wrote in his Aug. 6 motion that he did not plead guilty to the drug quantity or to the alleged leadership role that led to an enhanced sentence. Also, a jury did not evaluate the information in his sentencing hearing, he said.

"This matter must be reversed and remanded for resentencing minus these stated enhancements," Reyes wrote.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., this month told federal judges in its five-state jurisdiction to continue using federal guidelines that are under constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.

But the appeals court also recommended that in the interim judges state a second sentence "treating the guidelines as advisory only," apparently to satisfy the Supreme Court if it decides the guidelines violate the Constitution.

The Supreme Court on Aug. 2 said it will hear two cases suggested by the Bush administration for the purpose of deciding whether the sentencing guidelines meet constitutional muster on their first day back to work in October.

In July, a federal judge in Charleston reduced a man's 20 year sentence for conspiring to make methamphetamine to one year.

Because of the Blakely decision, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin threw out the man's earlier sentence based on allegations made in a pre-sentence report, the judge said.

Copyright © 2004, Daily Press

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