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By Jack King
NACDL News columns.
In a Federal Sentencing Guidelines decision handed down June 21, the
Supreme Court again made it clear that the guidelines are merely
advisory. Counsel may argue that the case falls outside the “heartland”
of the guidelines, or that the guidelines sentence fails properly to
reflect the sentencing factors Congress identified, or that the “case
warrants a different sentence regardless.” The Court reaffirmed that
district courts must exercise discretion based on the individual
characteristics of the defendant and the circumstances of the offense,
imposing a sentence that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary”
to comply with the goals of sentencing.
“In determining the merits” of these arguments “the sentencing court
does not enjoy the benefit of a legal presumption that the Guidelines
sentence should apply,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for a majority of
the court. The Guidelines may reflect a “rough approximation” of an
appropriate sentence in a crim
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