In a criminal case in federal court, if you are acquitted at trial of almost all of the charges against you, you can still be sentenced as though you were convicted of all of the charges against you, when the judge disagrees with the jury’s decision. That is off-the-rails crazy.
The point of a trial, of course, is to figure out if someone is going to go to prison for doing something. The jury’s decision about what a person did should be what controls what crime the person is sentenced for committing. Yet that’s not what judges do.
To be sure, there are some cases where judges use sentencing decisions to express concerns, perhaps, about the jury’s verdict. Such as when Barry Bonds was given a light sentence for committing something that was probably not a crime. Or when a woman in Indiana was convicted in a highly questionable prosecution after being inappropriately skewered with unfair questions on cross.
But that’s a judge using her power to set a sentence while respecting the decision of a jury. She accepts what the jury decided, then takes that into account — in addition to other things — when imposing sentence.
When a judge gives someone more time in prison based on something that a jury already decided the person wasn’t guilty of, it’s very different. That’s an insult to the jury and is really hard to square with how the law of federal sentencing has been developing lately.
This week, the Supreme Court had a chance to fix that. It didn’t.