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Panel Prohibits Federal Judges from Sentencing for 'Acquitted Conduct'

 The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to curtail judges’ ability to impose longer sentences to criminal defendants based on “acquitted conduct,” for which they were acquitted at trial, Reuters reports. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, a federal judge from Mississippi who was appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden as the commission's chair, said in a statement, "Not guilty means not guilty.”


While juries must consider whether a criminal charge is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, judges at sentencing may consider whether facts are proven based on a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard of proof. The U.S. Department of Justice opposed barring the practice, citing the potential for split or inconsistent verdicts or acquittals on technical grounds, like jurisdiction. It also said an acquittal did not mean someone was innocent, just that there was reasonable doubt as to someone's guilt, and that an amendment "could result in sentences that fail to account for a criminal defendant's full range of conduct."

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