Modifications of Sentences (Part 3)

by | Dec 13, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Breyer continued: The record from the original sentencing was before the judge—the same judge who imposed the original sentence—when he considered petitioner’s sentence-modification motion. By entering the form order, the judge certified that he had “considered” petitioner’s “motion” and had “taken into account” the §3553(a) factors and the relevant Guidelines policy statement. Because the record as a whole suggests the judge originally believed that 135 months was an appropriately high sentence in light of petitioner’s offense conduct, it is unsurprising that he considered a sentence somewhat higher than the bottom of the reduced range to be appropriate as well. That is not to say that a disproportionate sentence reduction never may require a more detailed explanation. But given the simplicity of this case, the judge’s awareness of the arguments, his consideration of the relevant sentencing factors, and the intuitive reason why he picked a sentence above the very bottom of the new range, his explanation fell within the scope of lawful professional judgment that the law confers upon the sentencing judge.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Alito. Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion in which he was joined by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan. Because Justice Gorsuch did not take part in the decision, the case was decided by eight justices instead of nine. Note that if the opinion ended in a 4-4 split, the same end result would have been reached. This is because in the case of a tie, the lower court’s opinion if affirmed and that is what happened in this case.

It is somewhat surprising that Justice Ginsburg did not side with the dissent. She tends to be less inclined to side with the pro-police justices in matters of criminal procedure. It is possible that she was on the proverbial fence and realized that joining the dissent would not change the end result in light of the votes that were likely to be cast. Therefore, she just sided with the majority.