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Legal Experts Debate Court Decision's Effect on Federal System

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who has been deeply involved in sentencing issues, said in a statement that it is too soon to tell "whether the Court's interim advisory guidelines will be appropriate in the long run."

"The ball is now in Congress's court," he concluded.

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Transcript: Dean of the Columbia School of Law at The Catholic University of America is taking your questions on today's Supreme Court rulings about federal sentencing guidelines and changes in illegal immigrant imprisonment.
_____From Findlaw_____
United States v. Booker (Federal Sentencing) (Jan. 12, 2005)

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Without congressional intervention, one federal judge predicted in an interview that U.S. district judges are likely to give the majority of defendants lesser sentences than before. The judge spoke on the condition of anonymity because judicial ethics generally prevent judges from speaking to the media.

One federal prosecutor agreed, saying some judges have indicated displeasure with the guidelines' constraints.

"There's not a lot we can do about it," said the prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not speaking officially for the Justice Department. "We will largely have to beat our brains out to get convictions and then throw up our hands at sentencing."

One federal judge who publicly expressed her displeasure was Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria. Last summer, when the guidelines required her to impose a life sentence on one member of an alleged "Virginia jihad network" and an 85-year term on another, Brinkema called her own ruling "appalling" and said she had sentenced al Qaeda terrorists to far less time.

John K. Zwerling, the attorney for one of the defendants, said yesterday that his client and two other defendants have already challenged their sentences. He said yesterday's ruling will vastly increase their chances.

"There are a lot of defendants in the pipeline who will receive huge benefits from this decision," Zwerling said. "We're just hoping that the federal system will become more humane."

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