Court Battles

Supreme Court hands victory to groups criticizing mandatory sentencing laws

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that a court may consider whether a defendant has already been given a mandatory sentence for one crime when determining an appropriate sentence for another charge.

The verdict is a victory for groups opposed to mandatory minimum sentences that were arguing for more flexibility for courts.

The government claimed courts should calculate the appropriate term of imprisonment for each individual offense and disregard whatever sentences a defendant already faced on other counts.

{mosads}Chief Justice John Roberts, delivering the court’s opinion, wrote that “nothing in the law requires such an approach.”

His decision states that sentencing courts have long enjoyed discretion in the sort of information they may consider when setting an appropriate sentence.

The case centered on Levon Dean Jr., an Iowa man convicted of multiple robbery and firearms counts.

Dean was sentenced to a little over three years for the robbery but argued that his mandatory 30 years for possession of a firearm used in the furtherance of a crime of violence should have been enough.

Roberts ruled the Iowa district court was wrong in ruling that it could not vary from the guidelines range.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group working to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws, said it was pleasantly surprised by the court’s decision Monday because the court had seemed divided on the issue at oral arguments in February. 

“I’m surprised it got there,” FAMM Vice President Kevin Ring said. “We’re pleased obviously and I think it’s a case where the court was reluctant to take sentencing discretion away from judges. To not allow a judge to consider mandatory minimums would have blindfolded him.”

“Even though the crime was serous, this guy was going to get his just desserts and this added time was not needed,” he said.

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