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Sentencing: Supreme Court Passes on Chance to End Punishments for Acquitted Crimes

In a March 31 order , the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for an offense of which he was acquitted. In refusing to hear the appeal, the high court let stand the federal judicial practice of punishing defendants convicted of one crime by crafting sentences based also on "acquitted conduct" -- in effect punishing them for crimes in which they were found not guilty.
Supreme Court sanctions supreme injustice
The case was that of Mark Hurn of Madison, Wisconsin, who was charged with possession of crack cocaine and possession of powder cocaine after a 2005 raid of his home in which police seized 450 grams of crack and 50 grams of powder cocaine. At trial, Hurn admitted to dealing drugs, but testified the crack belonged to other people living in the house. The jury convicted him of the powder cocaine offenses, but acquitted him of the crack offenses.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Hurn should have faced about three years in prison for the powder cocaine conviction. But federal prosecutors argued he should be punished for both offenses with a 20-year sentence, and US District Court Judge John Shabazz agreed. Saying there was good reason to think Hurn was guilty of the crack charges, he sentenced him to nearly 18 years.

"This was an extraordinary increase," said Elizabeth Perkins, a lawyer in Madison who filed his appeal. "Allowing a sentencing judge to disregard the verdict of the jury is very disappointing," she told the Los Angeles Times.

But it's business as usual in the Alice in Wonderland world of the federal courts. Nearly a decade ago, the Supreme Court endorsed sentencing for acquitted conduct in a California case, but only in a short unsigned opinion. Under the court's rule, judges can sentence defendants by "relying on the entire range of conduct" presented by prosecutors, not just the charges that resulted in guilty verdicts. That has given judges the freedom to send people to prison for years for charges of which they were not convicted.

Hurn had appealed to the appeals court in Chicago, which agreed that his sentence was "based almost entirely on acquitted conduct," but upheld it nonetheless, citing the earlier Supreme Court ruling.

Hurn appealed to the Supreme Court last fall, with his lawyers arguing that prosecutors shouldn't be able to "execute an end run" around the jury. They cited a series of Supreme Court rulings in recent years that severely limited judges' ability to sentence defendants based on conduct not proven before a jury, but the Supreme Court didn't want to touch it. Instead, it rejected without comment even hearing the appeal.

"This is very disappointing," Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who is an expert on sentencing, told the Times. "They have dodged this for now, but eventually the Supreme Court will have to grapple with this again."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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If we had Fully Informed Jurors willing to acquit on ALL counts when the case only involves drugs and not some violent offense, this type of injustice would end.

Judicial Systems

A fine example of just how scary it is to be a citizen of the U.S.; and how American citizens' rights have been exploited by those whom hold the ultimate power over us all.
It's a reign of terror, and I don't expect these types of results for non-violent crimes to end anytime soon.

bush cheney

the evil supreme terror mongers, they will pay for their judgement of others. would you believe that Jesus does not like the republican party. all republican states have had nothing but crap weather delt to them. it is going to get worse. i new katrina was the big 1, 2 weeks before it hit but no 1 would believe me

and justice for all?

if only the judiciary were so bold in disregarding the disposition of juries when sentencing the high- income, well represented "white collar" predator who pilfers the pension funds for his workers to fund his addiction to blow, prostitutes, gambling, and the arrogance of the power he creates for himself....

my thoughts drift back to the most pathetic "low speed pursuit" in television history, foreshadowing the farce of the Simpson trial... this is perhaps the one single case most deserving the judicial prerogative to sentence at will.... but you get what you pay for....

when we have seen that we cannot trust our executive branch to uphold the constitution or any semblance of justice whatsoever, and we cannot trust our legislators to have enough balls to exercise their constitutional power to challenge the miscarriage of justice.... and if our judicial branch takes it upon themselves to undermine the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial before a jury of the people....

what is left to assure us that the fundamental rights and protections guaranteed to every citizen by the constitution and the bill of rights, when all of the checks have checked out, defeated by the balances of the financial accounts of the ruling class?

the most absurd notion of it all is the absence of a public in protest, demanding the uniform application of the rights and guarantees assured by our constitution...

what will it take to piss off the collective constituency enough to finally take action and demand that american institutions remember that their purpose is to uphold the freedoms that once made america great?


i believe in a true and just god someday when jesus comes back to this earth(which sone do not believe will happen) he will judge these unjust judges and it will be sad to see. meanwhile where are the citizens of this country. we are the law its only decided behind our backs i do not think any one should be denied their rights . you can take rhe written law and twist it apart and do what you want if you are in the court system. yes i am afraid to breathe in my own country anymore seems every thing is a crime to some.i have never been arrested nor have i ever been involved in corrupt systems but i see what happens all the time. our white collar offenders are never put into a max. security facility but a person from apoor family is thrown in with all security and treated with the lowest regard in state facilities, where are the voices for them. i say vote them money hungry vulchers out of office in the state and federal systems. we are the people.
i see a lot of things that is not right but who am i just another scared person waiting to see what happens tomorrow. be assured election day is near and i say vote them out. give them a vacation

This is not an anomaly

sicntired This case is such a miscarriage of justice but is unfortunately not uncommon.The word drugs seems to cause a complete disconnect in the brains of many judges and law enforcement officials.Did the Supreme court even read the details of this case or did they just read crack and toss it?The current court is a pretty scary bunch any way.In a recent case at our border the law said that it was the taking out of a single load that was a victory in the drug war.They've certainly lowered their goals in the last few years.2008 was supposed to be the year that the planet was to be rid of the drug problem.(according to the UN)They lowered their goals as well as they would have looked pretty foolish if they hadn't.Police in RIO said that they were like insecticide after going in and killing eight people in what were described as drug raids by the cops but were called executions of the poor by the local media watch group.There are so many horrific crimes being committed in the name of the drug war.I guess we can count our blessings that it hasn't gotten to where they're killing people without cause here yet,although 15 years in prison for some dope you were acquitted of having is a kind of living death.This guy will be a totally different person in 15 years.

I think its terrible!

I think its terrible!

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