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July 21, 2004 - The Wall Street Journal (US)

Justice Department Seeks Court Ruling To Restore Sentencing

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department Solicitor General's Office is expected to ask the Supreme Court as early as today to rule on two cases it hopes will restore the status quo to a federal sentencing system that has been in chaos since a June high-court ruling.

Several circuit courts have ruled the federal sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against state guidelines in the Blakely v. Washington case.

In that 5-4 decision, the court said that any factor increasing a criminal sentence must be admitted by the defendant in a plea deal or proved to a jury, effectively barring a judge from using information in increasing a defendant's sentence that wasn't heard or decided by the jury.

The ruling was related to guidelines used in Washington state, but the ramifications of the ruling have been most acutely felt in the federal system.

The Justice Department had sought cases it could push to the Supreme Court to support the department's belief that the guidelines are constitutional.

The two cases are prosecutions of Ducan Fanfan of Massachusetts, and Freddie J. Booker of Wisconsin.

The cases, previously identified in the New York Times, both include drug convictions where federal judges ruled that the Blakely decision limited the information judges could use to impose harsher sentences on the men.

Mr. Booker's attorney, T. Christopher Kelly, of Madison Wis., said the department has indicated the decision would be this week and that he would have seven days to respond.

(Remainder snipped at the request of The Wall Street Journal)

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