Sentencing in federal court has been governed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The Supreme Court has upheld the Guidelines in the face of arguments that they constituted an unconstitutional delegation of authority and an affront to the separation of powers. Yet thereafter, the Court held that due process and the right to a criminal jury trial require that any fact (other than the fact of a prior conviction) that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And for this reason, the Court, in Blakely v. Washington, found constitutionally wanting a state sentence imposed by operation of a legislative sentencing guideline procedure even though the final sentence fell beneath the maximum penalty assigned to the crime of conviction. In Booker the Court agreed that these principles apply to the federal Sentencing Guidelines and as a consequence the Guidelines must be considered advisory rather than mandatory. The Court's later decision in United States v. Shepard may offer some clue as to further development of the Apprendi/Blakely principles.
This report is an abridged version -- without footnotes -- of CRS Report RL32573(pdf), United
States Sentencing Guidelines and the Supreme Court: Booker, Fanfan, Blakely, Apprendi, and