The U.S. Supreme Court Ruling…

 

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s ex post facto prohibition upon retroactive application of harsher penalties, prohibits a citizen from receiving a potentially greater sentence under guidelines issued after the crime was committed, than the sentence called for under the penalties in place at the time of the commission of the crime. A sentencing judge must apply the law that was in effect when the offense was committed, unless the new penalty provision or law does not present a significant risk of increasing the sentence. The facts of Peugh are fairly straightforward: • The defendant was convicted of bank fraud committed from 1999 to 2000. • When he was facing sentencing in 2009, the relevant guideline sentence range had greatly increased calling for imprisonment for 70 to 87 months rather than imprisonment for 30 to 37 months. • In the intervening years between the defendant’s criminal acts and his sentencing, the court declared that the guidelines were advisory, rather than mandatory.

 

The 7th Circuit, had ruled that because the guidelines were now “advisory” there couldn’t possibly be an ex post facto violation. Other circuits had ruled that use of an increased penalty provision, constituted an ex post facto violation, regardless of the “advisory” nature of the guidelines. This produced a “split among the circuits.” When there is a “split” , the Supreme Court will ordinarily address the issue, because if not addressed, both equal protection and due process of law, are seriously damaged. Writing for the majority, Justice Sotomayor stated that despite the sentencing guidelines being advisory, they exert an influence, and district courts tend to use them substantively. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution’s “ex post facto prohibition” prohibits a citizen from receiving a harsher sentence under a law enacted after the crime was committed, than the sentence called for under the penalties in place at the time of the commission of the crime.