Justices decline to extend ruling on repeat offenders

March 6, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to give some inmates convicted of repeated violent crimes a chance to reduce their prison terms.

The justices unanimously rejected a challenge to guidelines that boosted the sentence of a Florida man convicted of unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun.

Travis Beckles received a 30-year sentence as a career offender because he had two prior felony drug convictions. Beckles said language in the sentencing guidelines defining what crimes make a defendant eligible for a longer prison term is so vague that it’s unconstitutional. He was relying on a high court ruling last year that struck down similar language in the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas declined to apply that ruling to language in the sentencing guidelines. He said the sentencing guidelines can’t be challenged for being too vague since they only offer a guide to how courts can impose sentences within an acceptable range.


A ruling in favor of Beckles would have allowed up to 6,000 federal inmates sentenced under the guidelines to seek a reduction, according to the National Association of Federal Defenders, a defense attorney group.

Only seven justices heard the case after Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from taking part. A federal appeals court had also ruled against Beckles’ challenge.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately to say that the majority went too far in saying the sentencing guidelines can never be challenged for being too vague. Justice Anthony Kennedy also wrote separately to say that some sentencing rules might be challenged under the Constitution for being too arbitrary.