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High Court to Review Judges’ Sentencing


— October 20, 2003

Could this be a deliperate swipe at Attorney General John Ashcroft for his efforts to reduce downward departures in federal sentencing?

While the Bush administration complains that judges are too often soft on crime, the Supreme Court agreed Monday to look at the other end of the spectrum – cases in which judges reject guidelines and hand out extra-long sentences.

The court said it would consider whether judges alone can decide to tack on additional prison time or whether a jury must make that call.

Sometime next year, the court will hear the case of Ralph Howard Blakely Jr., a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic convicted of abducting his estranged wife, Yolanda, from their home in the state of Washington in 1998. He put his wife in his pickup truck and drove for several hours, at times forcing her to lie in a coffin-like wooden box in the truck bed. Yolanda Blakely was released unharmed.

Blakely entered an “Alford plea,” in which a defendant acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to win a conviction and forgoes a trial.

Under the sentencing guidelines adopted by the state Legislature, Blakely faced a maximum of slightly more than four years in prison for kidnapping and assault. Prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a sentence near that maximum.

Instead, the state judge who sentenced Blakely called a four-year term too lenient. After a separate evidentiary hearing the judge imposed a term of seven years and five months. The judge said a domestic violence crime committed with “deliberate cruelty” warranted a longer term than normal.

The AP has the story here.


Could this be a deliperate swipe at Attorney General John Ashcroft for his efforts to reduce downward departures in federal sentencing?

While the Bush administration complains that judges are too often soft on crime, the Supreme Court agreed Monday to look at the other end of the spectrum – cases in which judges reject guidelines and hand out extra-long sentences.

The court said it would consider whether judges alone can decide to tack on additional prison time or whether a jury must make that call.

Sometime next year, the court will hear the case of Ralph Howard Blakely Jr., a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic convicted of abducting his estranged wife, Yolanda, from their home in the state of Washington in 1998. He put his wife in his pickup truck and drove for several hours, at times forcing her to lie in a coffin-like wooden box in the truck bed. Yolanda Blakely was released unharmed.

Blakely entered an “Alford plea,” in which a defendant acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to win a conviction and forgoes a trial.

Under the sentencing guidelines adopted by the state Legislature, Blakely faced a maximum of slightly more than four years in prison for kidnapping and assault. Prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a sentence near that maximum.

Instead, the state judge who sentenced Blakely called a four-year term too lenient. After a separate evidentiary hearing the judge imposed a term of seven years and five months. The judge said a domestic violence crime committed with “deliberate cruelty” warranted a longer term than normal.

The AP has the story here.

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