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shali
13-01-2005, 12:09 PM
Court: Sentencing System Wrongly Applied
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By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
13TH JAN. 2005

WASHINGTON - A splintered Supreme Court threw the nation's federal sentencing system into turmoil Wednesday, ruling that the way judges have been sentencing some 60,000 defendants a year is unconstitutional.

In ordering changes, the court found 5-4 that judges have been improperly adding time to some criminals' prison stays.

The high court stopped short of scrapping the nearly two-decade-old guideline system, intended to make sure sentences do not vary widely from courtroom to courtroom.

Instead, the court said in the second half of a two-part ruling that judges should consult the guidelines in determining reasonable sentences but only on an advisory basis.

How well that will work was immediately questioned.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted for the first part of the ruling but against the second, said the change would "wreak havoc on federal district and appellate courts quite needlessly, and for the indefinite future."

"This creates more questions than it answers," said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University sentencing expert. "There's going to be lots and lots of litigation."

Courts can immediately expect a deluge of cases from inmates who claim they were wrongly sentenced.