Rita V. United States - Concurring Opinions

Concurring Opinions

Justice Stevens argued that in light of Rita's military service, he would have imposed a lower sentence. Yet because the reasonableness standard was in truth an abuse-of-discretion standard, he felt bound to defer to the assessment of the trial court.

Justice Scalia theorized that reasonableness review can be only procedural and not substantive. This conclusion flows from the Sixth Amendment requirement that any fact legally necessary to support a sentence must be either admitted by the defendant or found by a jury. If a sentence is upheld as substantively reasonable, it could have been the product of judicial factfinding, even if those facts yielded a sentence within a guidelines range. That holding would, in Scalia's view, violate the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey. Since the Sixth Amendment would curtail judicial factfinding in some cases, and Congress intended for a uniform standard of review to apply, there could be no substantive review of sentences for reasonableness.

This does not mean that reasonableness review is toothless, for procedural uniformity can still yield the sentencing uniformity Congress intended. The fact that judges are required to explain their decisions will help the Commission tweak the Guidelines to achieve further uniformity in the future. These modifications will in turn give district courts less and less reason to depart from the Guidelines range, leading to greater sentencing uniformity.

Read more about this topic:  Rita V. United States

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