Monday, January 22, 2007

Cunningham v. California (U.S. Supreme Ct. - Jan. 22, 2007)

Time to revise California's entire sentencing scheme.

The U.S. Supreme Court held earlier today that California's determinate sentencing laws violate the Sixth Amendment (as incorporated by the Fourteenth) under Apprendi/Blakely/Booker by permitting enhanced sentences based upon judicial factfinding on the preponderance of the evidence standard. Most everyone I know who followed this case thought it was going to come out this way, and the Supreme Court refused to disappoint. The decision was 6-3, with Justice Alito joining the expected dissents of Justices Breyer and Kennedy.

So now the California Legislature has some real work to do. And quickly. Plus, prepare for an avalanche of post-Cunningham sentence appeals (and habeas petitions) in California. Everybody's job just got a little bit harder today.

Parenthetically, the decision in Cunningham is a victory for Justice Jones, who dissented in the Court of Appeal and has repeatedly argued that California's determinate sentencing laws are unconstitutional, and could not be distinguished from Blakely. It's also somewhat of a victory for Justice Kennard, who dissented in People v. Black on similar grounds. The Supreme Court's decision essentially proved both of them right. California's sentencing regime doesn't survive the Apprendi/Blakely/Booker trilogy, and the attempts to distinguish California's laws from those previously invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court simply don't work.

P.S. - One final point. There are good reasons why the syllabus prepared by the Reporter of Decisions don't constitute part of the opinion by the Supreme Court. Check out the citation to People v. Black in the syllabus. It's wrong. It's 35 Cal. 4th 1238, not 35 Cal. 4th 1230.