By Correy Stephenson
Dolan Media Newswires
A U.S. District Court has the authority to order that a federal criminal sentence run consecutively to an anticipated state sentence that has yet to be imposed, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
The case involved a defendant who pleaded guilty in federal court to drug possession with the intent to distribute. He was also set to be charged in state court on drug charges from an incident which had resulted in revocation of his parole for an earlier state offense.
A federal court judge sentenced the defendant to 151 months of imprisonment to be served concurrently with any subsequent state sentence – but served consecutively to any sentence imposed for his parole violation.
The defendant appealed his federal sentence, arguing that the district court lacked the discretion under the Sentencing Reform Act to impose a sentence to run consecutively to a state sentence yet to be imposed.
The 5th Circuit disagreed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and heard oral arguments in November.
Judges have long been understood to have discretion to select whether the sentences they impose will run concurrently or consecutively with respect to other sentences that they impose, or that have been imposed in other proceedings, including state proceedings, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.
“We find nothing in the Sentencing Reform Act, or in any other provision of law, to show that Congress foreclosed the exercise of district courts’ sentencing discretion in these circumstances,” the Court said.
A dissent was filed by Justice Stephen Breyer, which was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy.
U.S. Supreme Court. Setser v. U.S., No. 10-7387.