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SCOTUS: Justices Nix Heavy Sentences for Repeat Sex Offenders

In an opinion that aligns Justice Neil Gorsuch with his liberal colleagues, the Supreme Court overturned a law that imposes heightened punishments on sex offenders who are caught with child pornography.

“Only a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person’s liberty. That promise stands as one of the Constitution’s most vital protections against arbitrary government,” Gorsuch wrote for the plurality Wednesday. “Yet in this case a congressional statute compelled a federal judge to send a man to prison for a minimum of five years without empaneling a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As applied here, we do not hesitate to hold that the statute violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.” Full Article

Case Info

Decision

Related

SCOTUS: Court poised to rule for challenger in dispute over constitutionality of sex-offender law

Join the discussion

  1. CR

    Gorsuch has the opinion in Haymond. The 10th Circuit’s ruling is vacated and remanded.

    The court holds that a federal law requiring a defendant who is registered as a sex offender to return to prison for at least five years if a federal judge finds that the defendant violated the terms of his supervised release is unconstitutional.

    GORSUCH, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined.

    Here’s the opinion:

    https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-1672_5hek.pdf

  2. CR

    @Chris F will like this:

    Gorsuch writes that only “a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person’s liberty.” But in this case, a federal law required a judge to send Haymond to prison without “empaneling a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As applied here, we do not hesitate to hold that the statute violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.”

    • Chris f (@ CR)

      Sounds perfect to me!

      Between that statement, and the dissent’s fear of this being the first setup of the “revolutionary implications” for future rulings undoing the past failures, I am quite hopeful.

  3. CR

    From Alito’s dissent:

    “I do not think that there is a constitutional basis for today’s holding, which is set out in JUSTICE BREYER’s opinion, but it is narrow and has saved our jurisprudence from the consequences of the plurality opinion, which is not based on the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment, is irreconcilable with precedent, and sports rhetoric with potentially revolutionary implications. The plurality opinion appears to have been carefully crafted for the purpose of laying the groundwork for later decisions of much broader scope.”

    I’m not sure what he’s getting at yet, but I’m rarely in agreement with Alito on anything, and he is rarely on the side of a criminal in any case that challenges government authority to inflict punishments, so I am thinking that, whatever these decisions of much broader scope portend, it is bound to be good.

    • E @ CR

      I am thinking that, whatever these decisions of much broader scope portend, it is bound to be good.
      —————-
      Ha! I like that and I think you’re right. If Alito hates it, I like it.

      Bummer to see Kavanaugh in lock (goose) step not with his buddy Gorsuch but with the Alito fringe on several of these.

    • Tim in WI

      @Cf&CR,
      Perhaps they are hinting at the broader application to governmental USE OF the database. The sex offender was the first to have the machine unleashed upon their liberty. Indeed as it has played out over the last three decades we are experiencing more and more affirmative restraints based upon ” being listed” upon the registry itself. Offenders who are not on the SOR electronic database are free to use FB, dating sites etc precisely because it is the information demanded by agents that is utilized to lend opportunity for comparison inter alia ” violate Facebook TOS. ” The is no LAW prohibiting social networks access (Packingham tried) instead a backdoor alternate is used via federal surveillance saints and big data analytics to make it happen.

      IMHO, Those congressional choices concerning appropriate GOV USE of the database machines will turn catastrophic for all, just as it has come to pass for this group. Once you decide make it lawful to enslave some humans to database upkeep, the rest will soon follow.
      Today no one knows where their personal data is stored, or not stored. Neither can they, or anyone keep the ill intentioned persons from gaining access. One has to buy identity protection to be “safer from database MISUSE.”

      We also know LEO is very much utilizing grey warrants( playpen)(recent 1700 fed task force)
      in their application of domestic surveillance(Fla v Kraft). Which is more the true threat to National security the sex offender OR the database? Easy call, IMHO.

  4. Tim in WI

    Wisconsin did the same thing to me after I was given 3 yrs probation for 2011FTR, I informed my probation officer I would not register, she had me arrested and sent to jail where a ” court commission ” sentenced me to jail. I didn’t get representation at that hearing at the jail. I knew it was unlawful but what can a guy do, they hold all the power. So I sat and sure enough they started coming weekly to offer me a way out. I sat.

  5. Dustin

    Seems to me the ruling can be summarized as the government can’t try a parolee/probationer on a new charge and add more time to the original sentence under the preponderance of evidence standard. It can only revoke a paroled/probated sentence. If it wants to add more time based on new charges, then it must do so with a new trial under the reasonable doubt standard.

    To dovetail, a problem in Georgia when parolees/probationers catch new charges, by law the state is allowed to prosecute either as a new charge or a violation, but not both. Sadly, the state seems to ignore that particular provision of law, particularly when the probation period is nearly over. I’ve known several inmates who have caught new charges on probation and were acquitted only to be locked up again as probation violations (usually unauthorized LE contact). I personally wish there were better means to prevent circumstances like that.

  6. Dustin

    Also, is it me or is the headline in this particular story somewhat misleading? I haven’t read the opinion, but nothing in the summary I read in the article indicated SCOTUS was against “heavy sentences for repeat sex offenders”, simply the manner in which they were imposed.

    A little irritating that the site doesn’t have a means to comment or contact their editors.

  7. Eric

    Is SCOTUS aware that this is standard procedure. Anytime probation accuses a person of violating the terms of probation they are locked up without a whisper.

  8. Jack

    Who’da thunk?

  9. Bo

    Wow, that’s a lot to digest. 5-3 is not a grand slam by an means but it seems to imply some limits on supervised release. What I wonder is how this applies to the poor saps on LIFETIME supervised release? Does that mean they have been sentanced to a term of imprisonment of their entire life? That’s terrifying. Of they could only be returned for a limited time at most 5 years, but that could easily be more than they were sentanced on the original offense. Idk. I will agree with the dissent in that this could be the ground work of something more.

    • Chris f

      This shows 5 justices will actually follow the Constitution even though it protects a registered citizen. That is great news for us. It is a big positive that they even took this case instead of just letting the ruling stand. Hopefully on more clear cut Constitional violations we can get even more Justices to rule based on the Constitution.

      I loved the words and cases used in the opinion. It sets the stage for future rulings like the dissent fears.

      They discuss unfairly taking away judicial discretion. They quote “require a judge to impose a higher penalty than he might wish”. Thats exactly what a mandatory registration and arbitrary duration does.

      They use words like “sentence enhancement” and the judicial process being reduced to “low level gate keeping”. That is registration as well.

      I also like this revelation in the majority opinion: “if the government and dissent were correct, Congress could require anyone convicted of even a modest crime to serve a sentence of supervised release for the rest of his life”. DING DING DING! Slam dunk setup for exactly what lifetime registration is for many people.

      This opinion is filled with nuggets of wisdom that we need used in a real challenge to registration. It’s a shame there isnt a viable challenge in the pipeline while we have the majority in our favor.

  10. dph

    WOW, this is a change, of course Kavanaugh newest will turn his druken nose at this and label us all with his daughter’s protections (FALSE), NO…Denied. Won’t even read really into it.
    Suprise for Judge Gorsich (R) to even really see rights here folks. GOOD SHOCK!
    Will it continue? Only time will tell. TELL THE TRUTH MEN, NOT what’s on Your Personal Agenda PLATE! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad something that affects us reached SCOTUS, but I worry about those Females that might of happened to them as a child and hold grudge as sitting on the bench, very common in large Hispanic Familia for repeat occurences for the children

    • Tim in WI

      @Bo,
      Poke the bear, I find it cathartic to drop WIS stat 301.45 1g a-b into the DAs lap and tell him to explain it to the jury.
      At FTR on June 26, they ( court commissioner )kept me till the end, I decided to refuse legal aid via pub defender. Kinda irked him I think , but he set arraignment for July 9. Next comes a stat of limitations on class B felony. State exceeds those 92 stats in two ways, time-20yr., and forfeiture 1K. For those acting in their own defense the choice of attorney use must require necessary experience. I find it queer the court asked me to reach out to Democratic socialists to defend myself from the same bunch, locally. I meekly stated ” if Congress hadn’t embraced an ex post facto law we’d not be here. “

    • Chris f

      Unfortunately, Kavenaugh wont vote to benefit registered people until people start to forget about all the sexual allegatioms against him.

      • CR

        Even then, I believe he won’t. He seems to be cut from the same cloth as Alito. If any vote of his benefits registered people, it will only be because it serves some other purpose that he actually cares more about.

        • AJ

          @CR:
          “He seems to be cut from the same cloth as Alito.”
          —–
          …and dyed in the same vat as Roberts. The worst of both worlds.

          I don’t think Kav will give a hoot about what happened when considering cases. After all, he’s in for life so who’s going to do anything to him? I just think he’s a DC-tainted jurist.

  11. Q

    @. Kavenaugh vote,
    Given the highly public nature of the hearing & his response; I surmised he’d do everything appear as if he has no tolerance for the kind of attack he was accused of. IMHO not even close to a sexual rape occurred given her testimony. But then his vote hinged on another issue completely.The splits in plurality opinions directly ,implicates the extremist LEADERSHIP in each party.

    Can 5-4 consistent voting on SCOTUS lead to a union cohesion by sound lawmaking?? IMHO, NO! It seems to me program regimes that are sound ( efficacy, efficient) would see more unambiguous unanimous votes (9-0, 8-1, 7-2). Tailoring of regulations is essential.

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