Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Sentence for Missouri Robber

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Sentence for Missouri Robber

Article excerpt

Prosecutors often fret about convictions getting thrown out on a technicality, but they had no complaint Wednesday when the Supreme Court used a legal fine point to keep a Missouri robber in prison.

The justices voted 8-1 to uphold the 45-year prison term of Christopher Bohlen, who was convicted in 1982 of robbing a jewelry store in Overland.

A judge had given him an extra-long sentence because of Bohlen's previous felony convictions, but that sentence was thrown out because prosecutors hadn't offered any proof of those convictions. Given a second chance, prosecutors offered the necessary proof and the sentence was reimposed.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, overturned the sentence once more, ruling that it violated the Constitution's prohibition against double jeopardy - trying someone twice for the same crime.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court reinstated the sentence. But the justices didn't rule on the most hotly debated issue in the case, whether double jeopardy applies to sentencing in non-death penalty cases. Instead, the justices cited their 1989 decision that courts cannot apply a new rule retroactively in appeals like Bohlen's.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said, "We feel the narrow ruling is the right and clear thing to do." The decision means Bohlen will not be retried for the robbery.

Bohlen's lawyer, Richard Sindel, said the technical nature of the ruling minimizes its significance. But he said it is a good example of how difficult the court has made such appeals for prisoners.

He was relieved that the Supreme Court had refused the state's request to overturn a 1981 case in which the justices held that someone sentenced to life in prison for murder could not get the death penalty at a second sentencing. The 8th Circuit had stretched that principle to apply to Bohlen as well.

But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court said the 8th Circuit's conclusion was a "new rule" that couldn't be applied retroactively to a prisoner's appeal, even if the rule were valid. …

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