January 17, 2005
I have long been a conservative who believes there is something wrong with our so-called criminal justice system.
One of those flaws is sentence disparity - criminals sentenced to different terms by different judges for the same crime.
Congress tried to rectify that disparity two decades ago by mandating federal guidelines so judges would be limited in their discretionary sentencing.
Now the Supreme Court has decided those guidelines are unconstitutional and violate a defendant's sixth amendment right to be tried by a jury.
The twin decisions, by 5-4 majorities, mean that judges in federal cases will now have broader discretion because the guidelines will no longer be mandatory, but only suggestive.
We'll see how this works.
Congress could re-tool the sentencing guidelines, or judges could begin exercising more responsibility in sentencing.
If judges don't abuse their power, I favor each case being decided on its own merits.
If they do, expect congress to step in again.
I'm Cal Thomas in Washington.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C. Watch his television show, After Hours with Cal Thomas, on the Fox News Channel, Saturdays at 11 p.m. Eastern Time.