Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Supreme Court Holds That Postsentencing Rehabilitation Relevant at Resentencing

March 2, 2011
The Supreme Court held that when a defendant’s sentence has been set aside on appeal, a district court at resentencing may consider evidence of the defendant’s postsentencing rehabilitation, and such evidence may support a downward variance from the now-advisory Guidelines range.
This case involves a sentencing Odyssey by the defendant, Pepper, and no less that four trips to a sentencing court and the Eighth Circuit. At issue is the extent that a district court may take into consideration at resentencing a defendant’s postsentecing rehabilitation. Here, Pepper, had begun serving his supervised release, testified at his resentencing hearing that he was no longer a drug addict; that he was enrolled in community college and had achieved good grades; and that he was working part time. Pepper’s father testified that he and his son were no longer estranged, and Pepper’s probation officer testified that a 24-month sentence would be reasonable in light of Pepper’s substantial assistance, postsentencing rehabilitation, and demonstrated low recidivism risk.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.  This Court has long recognized that sentencing judges “exercise a wide discretion” in the types of evidence they may consider when imposing sentence and that “[h]ighly relevant—if not essential—to [the] selection of an appropriate sentence is the possession of the fullest information possible concerning the defendant’s life and characteristics.” Williams v. New York, 337 U. S. 241, 246–247 (1949).
JUSTICE THOMAS, dissents from the majority holding and offers the following: I would affirm the Court of Appeals and uphold Pepper’s sentence. As written, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines do not permit district courts to impose a sentence below the Guidelines range based on the defendant’s postsentencing rehabilitation. See United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual §5K2.19 (Nov. 2010) (USSG). Therefore, I respectfully dissent.

In this well reasoned opinion the court sets out the arguments concerning how a defendant's post sentencing rehabilitation may at resentencing be considered by the district court --negating, I believe, aspects of presumptive Guideline policy supremacy.

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