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Back to list of Dissenting Opinions of Judges

July 1, 2004 - The Associated Press

Utah Judge Rejects U.S. Sentencing Rules

By Patty Henetz Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - For the second time in eight days, a judge has declared federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell cited a Supreme Court decision last week in a Washington state case. That decision, Cassell indicated, sets an unrealistic standard for applying the guidelines.

Several days before the Supreme Court's decision, a federal judge in Boston, ruling in an unrelated case, declared federal guidelines unconstitutional because they unfairly limit the authority of judges.

Cassell set a hearing for Aug. 2 for federal prosecutors to respond to his decision.

In the meantime, he said he will order the Utah federal court to announce two sentences at each hearing: the sentence the court would impose if the federal guidelines are considered unconstitutional, and the sentence the court would impose if the guidelines stand.

The Supreme Court's decision said that only a jury, not a judge, can sentence someone to more prison time than mandated by state or federal sentencing guidelines.

The decision appears to set a difficult standard, giving defendants a right to demand that juries determine beyond a reasonable doubt every fact that could lengthen their sentences.

While the decision applied only to Washington, it has thrown courts across the nation into turmoil as prosecutors and judges try to figure out how to handle cases immediately before them.

Last Friday, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia postponed the sentencing of an anti-abortion activist once on the FBI's most-wanted list because of the confusion. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Charleston, W.Va., postponed several sentencings amid the confusion.

Melody Rydalch, spokeswoman for Paul Warner, the U.S. Attorney for Utah, said Tuesday that he has asked the Justice Department for advice on national standards in light of the rulings.

Cassell issued his decision in a child sexual exploitation case.

Copyright 2004 - The Associated Press All Rights Reserved

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