Monday, January 22, 2007

People v. Nguyen (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 22, 2007)

This case completes the trilogy. An Apprendi/Booker/Blakely opinion today by the Supreme Court. Then one from the Ninth Circuit. And, now, one from the California Court of Appeal.

This one's about prior juvenile convictions (technically, juvenile "adjudications") and whether it's permissible to use them to enhance an adult defendant's sentence even though there's no right to a jury trial in juvenile prosecutions. Justice McAdams, in a very scholarly and comprehensive opinions, says "No," holding that to do so would violate Apprendi and Blakely.

This is an opinion worth reading. Even if it may well not be around all that long: given the significant sea change in California sentencing that it presages, I wouldn't be surprised if the California Supreme Court grants review -- or, perhaps more likely, depublishes the opinion (a distinct possibility given that Justice McAdams ends up affirming the sentence below on the ground that this particular defendant admitted the prior juvenile offense).

Moreover, the timing was interesting: I doubt that Justice McAdams realized that it would be released on the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Cunningham. Admittedly, the opinion in Cunningham only bolsters Justice McAdams' view. But he might have written the opinion a bit differently -- if only to include additional support -- upon reading the Supreme Court's contemporary view of related objections to California's sentencing scheme. (For this reason, we might well see a modification of the opinion soon, if only to include a brief mention of Cunningham. On the flip side, the change in sentencing structure compelled by Cunningham to some degree makes the holding in Nguyen moot, since the contemporary enhancement regime in California now requires revision to satisfy Blakely not only in juvenile cases, but in all other cases as well.)

This nonetheless remains a substantial, and interesting, opinion. And for anyone who doubts the potential significance of student-written law review articles, the first dozen or so pages of the opinion should help put those doubts to rest. Justice McAdams cites quite a few of them to support his holding, and his analysis on the merits often mirrors many of the arguments raised in these student-written comments. So don't think those law review notes necessarily entail merely spilled ink. They can matter. Including the very first one cited by Justice McAdams: a 1995 student-written comment by a then-USD student, and current California attorney, Lise Forquer (now Lise Jacobson) in the San Diego Law Review.

Great job, Lise.