"If It Suffices To Accuse": United States v. Watts and the Reassessment of Acquittals

June
1999
Elizabeth E. Joh

This Comment tries to extract Watts from the context of statutory and constitutional interpretation and reread it as an inquiry into the meaning of acquittals in the current sentencing regime. Part I of this Comment places the enactment of the Guidelines into historical context and also looks at the limited ways in which the Supreme Court attempted to justify the practice sanctioned in Watts. Part II examines the legal justifications that might better explain the Court's decision. Part III argues that even the best justifications offered for the Watts decision overlook the communicative effects of acquittals. Penal practices inevitably contribute to a social dialogue beyond the courtroom and the prison. This Comment argues that we should demand some coherence between social beliefs and sentencing decisions. Ultimately, Watts is problematic because it renders the acquittal verdict incoherent in a sentencing regime that many scholars and activists already find deeply unjust.

This article appears in the June 1999 Issue: Volume 74, Number 3