Justices Sotomayor and Barrett Criticize Sentencing Commission Vacancies

The Federal Docket

January 18, 2022

Last week, Justices Sotomayor and Barrett issued a joint statement regarding the denial of certiorari in a case involving the proper definition of a “controlled substance offense” under the career offender sentencing guidelines. There is currently a circuit split regarding when a defendant’s prior conviction for a drug offense qualifies as a conviction for a “controlled substance offense” under 4B1.1–whether a “controlled substance offense” has the federal definition or is controlled by the applicable state law where the defendant was previously convicted. Given the severe sentencing recommendations for “career offenders,” a defendant’s prior conviction qualifying under 4B1.1 can mean additional decades in prison.

The Justices wrote that it is “the responsibility of the Sentencing Commission to address this division to ensure fair and uniform application of the Guidelines…At this point, the Sentencing Commission has not had a quorum for three full years. As the instant petition illustrates, the resultant unresolved divisions among the Courts of Appeal can have direct and severe consequences for defendant’s sentences. I hope in the near future the Commission will be able to resume its important function in our criminal justice system.”

Click here to read the Court’s certiorari decisions from last week.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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