- Fatal-shooting victim ID'd; uncle said he tried to break up fight (9/29/16)23
- Driver charged with manslaughter in crash that killed 2 (9/27/16)
- Perryville man arrested for alleged patronizing prostitution, harassment (9/23/16)6
- Perryville High principal on leave; no reason given (9/28/16)9
- Video and evidence largely confirm trooper's claims in April traffic stop shooting (9/23/16)9
- Cape man may lose eye after shovel beating, police say (9/25/16)2
- Animal-rescue group receives grant from rock star for spay, neuter assistance (9/28/16)1
- Monia pleads guilty to 9 counts of financial exploitation of elderly; dealings with murderer Joseph clarified (9/28/16)11
- Woman accused of pushing Wal-Mart employee after theft (9/27/16)
- Planning, design puts renovations of H-H building into hotel on hold (9/26/16)6
Supreme Court wades into dispute over unsettled prison sentence
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court appeared poised Monday to alter the system used for sentencing 64,000 federal criminal defendants a year, but justices clashed over whether changes would create greater inequity.
Judges, not juries, consider factors that can add years to defendants' prison sentences, under the government's 17-year-old system which has been challenged as unconstitutional.
Justice Antonin Scalia said that lucky accused criminals go before merciful judges. The unlucky, he said, can face a "hanging judge."
"The whole reason for jury trials is we don't trust judges," he said.
Scalia wrote a stunning 5-4 ruling in June that struck down a state sentencing system because it gave judges too much leeway in sentencing. The ruling caused judges around the country to delay sentencings or hand down lighter penalties.
Justices heard two follow-up appeals Monday, on the opening day of their new term, that will decide the fate of the federal system set up by Congress to make sentencing more fair.
While juries consider guilt or innocence, judges make factual decisions that affect prison time, such as the amount of drugs involved in a crime, the number of victims in a fraud or whether a defendant committed perjury during trial.
Monday's appeals involve people sentenced on drug charges in Wisconsin and Maine. Both will get lighter sentences if the court rules against the government.
A ruling is likely before the end of the year.