U.S. Judge Cuts Farmer's Sentence In Mall Standoff
Watson's brother, George Watson, said in an interview that he thought someone was playing a trick on him when he received the news about the new sentence -- until he confirmed it with the lawyers.
"I've been walking on a cloud ever since," he said. "There's not a person down here who doesn't think he has already more than paid for what he did."
George Watson said that he salutes Jackson for reversing himself and that it was "disappointing" that prosecutors want to fight his brother's release.
"The only thing I can come up with is they hate to lose," he said.
The Supreme Court decision, in Blakely v. Washington, has been a bombshell for federal prosecutors across the country, and the Justice Department is working quickly to draft a national strategy for handling a potential cascade of defense motions to set aside or reduce sentences.
Legal specialists said the ruling seems destined to change the structure of plea bargains and trials in federal courts, to affect sentencing guidelines in about a dozen states and to have at least some effect on any trial in which a judge is allowed to add time to a sentence based on evidence not presented to the jury. That has been a key part of federal sentencing and, to varying degrees, of sentencing in state courts across the country.
The defendants who stand to benefit are those who have not been tried or who are within the time limit for appeals, according to the specialists.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that exceptional circumstances must be presented and proved to a jury or the sentence is unconstitutional.
In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor warned that the practical consequences of the decision "may be disastrous" and that the majority was ignoring "the havoc it is about to wreak on trial courts across the country. . . . Over 20 years of sentencing reform are all but lost, and tens of thousands of criminal judgments are in jeopardy."
That process began immediately, starting with a convicted child pornographer in Utah.
Brent Coxford pleaded guilty to taking pornographic pictures of his 9-year-old daughter, a crime that would have required him to serve 121 to 151 months in prison. But a pre-sentence report after his guilty plea indicated that he also had taken pornographic pictures of another child, an offense that would have required the judge, under federal guidelines, to impose a longer sentence, of 151 to 188 months.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Cassell wrote that he "reluctantly agreed" that such added prison time was now unconstitutional. He sentenced Coxford to 148 months and warned that the impact of the Supreme Court decision was "potentially cataclysmic."
Harvard Law School professor William J. Stuntz said the Supreme Court ruling "invalidates the large majority of federal sentences," but he said the final outcome was not yet clear.
"The court has said the current set of rules is not good, but it didn't specify what the new rules should be," Stuntz said. "For a while, there's going to be a tremendous amount of legal uncertainty, and that's a very bad thing in a criminal justice system."
According to the National Center for State Courts, the states most likely to be affected by the ruling are Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington. Other states, including Virginia, have voluntary guideline systems that also may have affected sentences. D.C. Superior Court might be affected as well.
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.
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