Patterico's Pontifications


Supreme Court Rejects California Sentencing Law

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:46 am

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected California’s sentencing law. I have not read the opinion, but based on the linked article, the practical implications are staggering. Thousands of prisoners may be resentenced to lower prison terms as a result of the decision.

Go to How Appealing for links to the decision and analysis.

18 Responses to “Supreme Court Rejects California Sentencing Law”

  1. There were 250,000 felony convictions in California in 2005 (per the linked article)? Which is to say that nearly 1% of the population of the state is convicted of a felony annually. Maybe I’m naive, but isn’t that a lot? Actual convictions?

    Mahon (15e701)

  2. It’s an extension of the Apprendi rule. Kennedy, Breyer and Alito dissented. The CJ, Scalia and Thomas joined the majority opinion authored by Bader-Ginsburg. It should make Libertarians happy. Sentencing is now a jury function even in non-capital cases. Maybe I’m angry only because a child molester will be let loose. There’s enough anger to go around, though. California’s AGs knew of Apprendi, as well as Booker and Blakely, and could have advised the legislature to amend the criminal code and judges to amend the jury instructions.

    nk (5a2f98)

  3. I’m not real keen on releasing criminals early, yet we seem to be doing that a lot anyway. With the mess in the prison system, we’re probably going to do more of it, so I question just how much imact this decision really has.

    And, since I believe that the right to a jury trial includes finding any fact used in sentencing, I can’t argue too much with the idea behind the decision. What isn’t clear is how badly the state was out of compliance, and whether recent cases are affected.

    On the third hand, it might be interesting to see what happens when a prosecutor tries to bring evidence that would “prejudice” a jury during the trial, but would be necessary to satisfy this ruling. Does the defendant have to waive one or the other right? Is there now going to be a sentencing phase for all trials?

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  4. “Does the defendant have to waive one or the other right? Is there now going to be a sentencing phase for all trials?”

    Bravo, Kevin, you nailed it.

    nk (5a2f98)

  5. Why the heck can’t the AP report who voted which way? What would that take, 2 lines?

    John (a2f5df)

  6. Oops! Nevermind…

    John (a2f5df)

  7. Patterico & NK,

    How long does a “typical” criminal trial last in your part of California? My impression is that trials take weeks that would be done in days in Texas, but I’m relying on anecdotal reports and that may well be incorrect.

    Bifurcating trials and requiring additional evidence at sentencing can obviously be done but it seems like it will complicate an already lengthy process. I can see the logic in capital cases but I’m not sure I see the point in lengthening all criminal trials this way. Am I missing something about how this will play out?

    DRJ (f4c219)

  8. Sort of a weird mix of the dissenters: Roberts, Kennedy, and Breyer.

    Sherpaman (3cd600)

  9. DRJ,

    I’m in Illinois. Major felony, I would say three to four days on the average, with the jury getting picked on Friday afternoon, evidence n Monday and Tuesday and the case being given to the jury Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.

    Kevin and I might be exaggerating a touch. This decision is still within the factual situation of a legislatively-mandated mandatory enhancement of a sentence. Traditional factors in aggravation and mitigation, such as the defendant’s background or the particular circumstances of the offense, could still be weighed by the judge in trying to decide upon say a sentence of “from three to five” or even “from six to thirty”. (But I want to reread the decision and the four cases it cites before I guarantee that.)

    nk (d7a872)

  10. Sorry, NK. I thought you were a California resident but I appreciate the response. It’s interesting to compare regional variations. Your description sounds like the timetable for criminal cases in my area.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  11. Here’s a link to the actual decision (PDF) although its quite quite lengthy and I haven’t been able to peruse it yet.

    It must be interesting though. I say that based on the odd mix of judges ending up on either side of the ruling. I’m going to try to at least skim it over the next couple hours.

    Dwilkers (4f4ebf)

  12. I just skimmed the summary, but I didn’t see anything that said whether the decision was retroactive or not. After Schriro v. Summerlin, it’s not clear to me that this decision would be, but I haven’t followed the Blakely cases closely on this point.

    In any event, the decision’s immediate impact is nonetheless quite large, even if applied prospectively only.

    Matto Ichiban (3b5aeb)

  13. How is it determined if a sentence is determined by a judge or a jury?
    Can a convictee request a judge sentence as a defendant can request a trial-by-judge?

    seePea (38fcb2)

  14. Alright, I just tried to read it. Its a waste of time for me, we’ll have to let our lawyer friends on the board tell us what’s up. It (I include the 2 dissents) seems to hang on such obscure detail that it might as well have been written in Chinese from my perspective.

    Dwilkers (4f4ebf)

  15. OK, I reread it. It seems to be an attack on legislatures tying judges’ hands and forcing them to impose a specific sentence, and not on judges being given broad discretion to consider factors in mitigation and aggravation within a broad discretion of time of sentence. I cannot copy and paste from my version of Acrobat but the second to last paragraph of the majority opinion is pretty explicit.

    Fair enough. It’s a reaction to the “truth in sentencing” movement. Although at first glance it seems like an attack on judicial discretion, I think that it is actually an attack on legislative restrictions on judicial discretion.

    nk (4cd0c2)

  16. This might mean that prosecutors will now have to prove and plead all aggravating sentencing factors pending a remedy by the Legislature. If so, what evidentiary requirements, if any, need be shown in the preliminary hearing so that the sentencing factors can be included in the felony information?

    Bull (c93791)

  17. And these are the same idiots who rule its OK to confiscate a persons home or buisness put grandma out of buisness so city fathers can replace her resruant or store with a filthy cassino. Thos judges need to be replaced

    krazy kagu (9a4519)

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