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Sotomayor, Barrett Team Up to Chide Deficient Sentencing Panel

Jan. 10, 2022, 5:01 PM

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called again for the deficient U.S. sentencing commission to resume functioning, but this time she was joined by the newest justice: Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Neil Gorsuch had previously joined Sotomayor to spotlight the issue, and Monday’s statement shows that Barrett may be another Republican appointee who joins with Democratic appointees on certain criminal matters.

“I hope in the near future the Commission will be able to resume its important function in our criminal justice system,” Sotomayor said Monday, joined by Barrett, noting the commission has lacked a quorum for three years.

The statement came in the case of Thomas Javion Guerrant. He challenged his status as a career offender, which was triggered by committing two prior felony controlled substance offenses.

The issue was how to define such offenses, a question on which federal appeals courts are split. Some have looked to federal law, while others have looked to state law. The commission’s sentencing guidelines don’t define the term.

“It is the responsibility of the Sentencing Commission to address this division to ensure fair and uniform application of the Guidelines,” the justices’ statement respecting the denial of Guerrant’s petition said.

He’s serving a ten-year federal prison term based on a career-offender status triggered by a prior Virginia state marijuana conviction. His guidelines range would have been 37 to 46 months without that career designation, his petition said. He said Virginia law defines marijuana more broadly than does federal law, so he shouldn’t have been deemed a career offender.

“As the instant petition illustrates,” Sotomayor and Barrett said, “the resultant unresolved divisions among the Courts of Appeals can have direct and severe consequences for defendants’ sentences.”

The case is Guerrant v. United States, U.S., 21–5099, 1/10/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com; Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com