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Judges Reject Guidelines on Sentencing

February 21, 1988|JANE FRITSCH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Two federal judges in San Diego have thrown out as unconstitutional the federal government's sweeping new sentencing guidelines and Justice Department officials say they are considering strategies for an appeal.

The rulings by U.S. District Judges Rudi M. Brewster and John S. Rhoades, which apply only to cases in their courtrooms, are the first in the nation to deal with the constitutionality of the guidelines drawn up by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and imposed Nov. 1.

"We just received the opinion. We are reviewing it and studying our options," Amy Brown, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, said Friday. The decision on how to proceed is up to the solicitor general, Brown said.

Roger W. Haines Jr., an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, said the department is expected to appeal the decisions, but is considering whether to wait until after the defendants in the cases have been sentenced. The San Diego cases involve defendants who are awaiting trial.

In a 22-page opinion, Judge Brewster agreed with lawyers for the San Diego Federal Defenders Office, who argued that the structure of the commission violates separation-of-powers provisions of the Constitution. Rhoades later adopted Brewster's opinion.

The five other federal judges in the Southern District of California and at least one senior judge are expected to rule on the issue in the coming weeks.

Brewster said the need for a quick decision on the guidelines is urgent because hundreds of new criminal cases are filed around the country each week.

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