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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 16, 2004

Law Professor Bibas Testifies Before U.S. Sentencing Commission About Reform

University of Iowa law professor Stephanos Bibas testifies before the United States Sentencing Commission today on issues commissioners might keep in mind as they consider new federal sentencing guidelines in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer.

The Commission is the federal agency that establishes sentencing policies for federal courts and creates guidelines that set the appropriate punishment for those convicted of federal crimes.

The Commission is considering ways to restructure federal sentencing guidelines after the Supreme Court's decision earlier this year in Blakely v. Washington. In the case, the Court declared state sentencing guidelines to be unconstitutional. While the case did not involve federal guidelines, many observers believe it is only a matter of time before the Justices apply the same principle to the federal guidelines.

In the Blakely decision, the Court held that a judge's decision to increase a defendant's sentence above the ordinary punishment prescribed by Washington state's sentencing guidelines violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. The Court ruled that the decision to impose a sentence beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be made by a jury, not a judge, and only after the jury finds the facts justifying the increase beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bibas agrees with those observers who believe federal sentencing guidelines in their current form are endangered by an upcoming Supreme Court decision. The Sentencing Commission is taking testimony on restructuring the guidelines and making them more flexible with the Blakely decision in mind.

An article written by Bibas and published in the Yale Law Journal was cited and discussed extensively by the majority and dissenting Justices in the Blakely case, who disagreed about whether the Blakely ruling would ultimately help or harm criminal defendants in plea bargaining. The article, "Judicial Fact-Finding and Sentence Enhancements in a World of Guilty Pleas," was published in 2001.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu.