SCOTUS accepts judicial sentencing tyranny in drug case


It may sound like a case out of the kangaroo courts of North Korea or Cuba, but chillingly, it comes from the very heart of our republic.

In 2007 a Washington, D.C. man, Antwuan Ball, was convicted of one count of selling $600 worth of cocaine and acquitted of several other charges alleging a conspiracy of drug distribution, murder, and racketeering. However, the district court used the charges of which he was acquitted to increase his sentence from a few years for the one drug deal to 19 years for the conspiracy. Six years later, in 2013, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence. And in a final act of injustice, the Supreme Court this week refused to hear the appeal, rendering permanent Ball’s sentence on charges for which he was acquitted.

The level of tyranny being tacitly endorsed here by 6 members of the highest court in the land is hard to exaggerate and to fathom. Judges should have a certain measure of discretion to level appropriate sentences after a conviction, but using charges for which the defendent was specifically acquitted for that purpose is against the entire spirit of due process and the Bill of Rights.

The Court needs only 4 justices to grant an appeal, not even a majority. But this case, Jones v. United States, received only 3: Scalia, who wrote a whithering dissent (PDF, pg 14-16), joined by Thomas, and, yep, Ginsburg. So much for the vaunted Libertarian Court.

Not one other justice thought it was worth hearing an appeal from an American citizen who was sentenced by a judge for a crime that a jury found he had not committed. Not Roberts, not Kagan, not Sotomayor… Though in the latter’s case, it shouldn’t be surprising. During Sotomayor’s term on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she ruled against defendants who had been similarly sentenced according to the guidelines for charges for which they were not convicted and for which they were acquitted.

One would be forgiven for thinking this sounds like one of the grievances the Continental Congress filed against King George in the Declaration of Independence. The list of tyrannies perpetuated, endorsed, or tolerated by our government grows similarly long.

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