Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Apprendi and Blakely Cases

On June 26, 2000, the United States Supreme Court in its review of the case of Charles C. Apprendi against the State of New Jersey ruled that, consistent with the Sixth Amendment, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum, other than the fact of a prior conviction, must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.(1) In a subsequent review of the case of Ralph Howard Blakely against the State of Washington, the Court clarified Apprendi further by ruling that the “statutory maximum” for Apprendi purposes is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant, that a defendant can waive his Apprendi rights, and that when a defendant pleads guilty, the State is free to seek judicial sentence enhancements so long as the defendant either stipulates to the relevant facts or consents to judicial fact finding.(2) In other words, the relevant “statutory maximum” is not the maximum sentence a judge may impose after finding additional facts, but the maximum he or she may impose without any additional findings.

When a judge inflicts punishment that the jury’s verdict alone does not allow, the jury has not found all the facts which the law makes essential to the punishment, and the judge exceeds his or her proper authority.(3) The application of the principles of Apprendi to guidelines sentencing schemes was reaffirmed by the Court in United States v. Booker,(4) which held that the imposition of a sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines based on additional facts that the sentencing judge found by a preponderance of the evidence violated the Sixth Amendment.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sample Questions for Judicial Candidates

What would you ask a judicial candidate if you had the opportunity to question him or her?

The quality of our judiciary has a direct correlation to the quality of what goes on in our courts of law, including our sentencings in criminal court. Although slightly off-topic for a sentencing blog, the following is a complilation of sample questions to ask those who would be our judges:

I. Knowledge.

1. Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this? What are the pros and cons of using drivers license registration as a source of jurors?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vindictive Sentencing

The issue of vindictive sentencing can arise at original sentencing or at resentencing. A vindictive sentence is imposed where the defendant is punished for exercising his or her appellate rights or where any judicially imposed penalty needlessly discourages assertion of the Fifth Amendment right not to plead guilty and deters the exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to demand a jury trial, and such a sentence is patently unconstitutional.(1) Vindictiveness in sentencing does not mean that the trial judge affirmatively intends to punish the defendant for rejecting a plea. “Vindictive” in this context is a term of art which expresses the legal effect of a given course of action, and does not imply any personal or subjective animosity between the court and the defendant.(2)