Why Vague Sentencing Guidelines Violate the Due Process Clause

44 Pages Posted: 1 May 2016 Last revised: 12 Jul 2016

Kelsey Heilman

Government of the United States of America - U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon

Date Written: April 28, 2016

Abstract

The United States Sentencing Guidelines are the mandatory starting point and the lodestone for the sentences of 75,000 federal defendants each year. Though advisory after the 2005 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker, the Guidelines continue to exert tremendous influence over federal sentencing practice. Last term, in Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutionally vague a sentencing provision of the Armed Career Criminals Act. In the ensuing year, a circuit split developed regarding whether that decision dooms a textually identical provision of the Guidelines, with some courts holding advisory sentencing guidelines are completely immune from due process challenges. In this Article, I argue the Guidelines violate the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution if they are so vague they deny fair notice to defendants and invite arbitrary enforcement by judges.

Keywords: vagueness, due process, Supreme Court, sentencing

Suggested Citation

Heilman, Kelsey, Why Vague Sentencing Guidelines Violate the Due Process Clause (April 28, 2016). 95 Oregon Law Review, Issue 1, 2016, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2772329

Kelsey Heilman (Contact Author)

Government of the United States of America - U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ( email )

OR
United States

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