The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether federal judges must give those convicted of crimes advance notice that they intend to sentence them to longer prison terms than called for under federal sentencing guidelines.
The court, issuing orders as it recessed for the summer, said it would review the 60-month sentence imposed on William J. Burns, a former Agency for International Development official who pleaded guilty to stealing AID funds.
Between 1982 and 1988, Burns set up an account under a phony name and had $1.2 million in agency travel funds deposited into the bank.
The plea agreement reached between Burns and prosecutors called for a sentence within the range outlined under the guidelines, 30 to 37 months. At the sentencing, however, U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson said she was going to depart from the guidelines and impose a higher sentence because of the duration and nature of the embezzlement scheme.
The federal appeals court here upheld the sentence. The high court agreed to review that decision after it returns in October.
The guidelines, which took effect in November 1987, chart the appropriate penalty based on the crime and the background of the defendant, but give judges the authority to depart from the guidelines if they explain why.
In asking the court to review his case, Burns argued that the judge should have informed him in advance of her intent to impose a longer sentence so that he had a "meaningful opportunity" to argue against it.
The Justice Department, which urged the court not to hear the case, Burns v. U.S., said adoption of the guidelines did not mean that judges are required to announce in advance the grounds on which they intend to rely in imposing sentences.
In addition, the department said, defendants' new right to appeal departures from the guidelines provides them with an "additional protection against an unreasonable departure."