Court Report: States Lose a Few in This Term's U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

By Savage, David G. | State Legislatures, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Court Report: States Lose a Few in This Term's U.S. Supreme Court Decisions


Savage, David G., State Legislatures


Lawmakers in many states may soon need to take a close look at how criminals are sentenced in their state courts, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling that has upset the traditional rules for crime and punishment.

Until this year, the general rule has been that juries decide whether a defendant is guilty of crime, and, if so, the judge imposes a punishment. But the Supreme Court insists that the Constitution requires that juries, not judges acting alone, must decide all the facts that justify a long prison term.

"The founders of the American Republic were not prepared to leave it to the state" to decide who is guilty and what punishment is deserved, wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the first of a series of rulings that strengthened the right to jury trials. "Judges, it is sometimes necessary to remind ourselves, are part of the state," he added.

Scalia has been the leader of an unusual five-member liberal-conservative coalition that has struck down stiff sentences imposed by judges. Four years ago, in the case of Apprendi v. New Jersey, the high court threw out part of a 12-year prison term that a judge had imposed on a middle-aged white man who, after drinking heavily, shot a bullet at the home of an African American neighbor.

The defendant, Charles Apprendi, pled guilty to an assault, which carried a maximum term of 10 years in prison. However, he was given extra time behind bars because the judge decided his offense amounted to a hate crime.

In reversing Apprendi's sentences, the justices announced a strict, new rule: "Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

Until this year, the Apprendi decision was seen as significant, but limited, since the new rule was triggered only when the sentence went beyond "the statutory maximum."

But this limitation seemingly evaporated in June when the high court struck down the sentence given to a Washington state kidnapper. Ralph Blakely had pied guilty to abducting his estranged wife and their son, a felony that carried a maximum of 10 years in prison. The judge had sent him to prison for seven-and-a-half years. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court found this punishment unconstitutional because his sentence exceeded the guidelines that had been set in the state's Sentencing Reform Act.

Washington's Legislature, along with at least 10 other states and the federal government, tried to ensure that similar crimes would be punished in the same way, regardless of who was the judge. Under Washington's guidelines, second-degree kidnapping with a weapon called for 49 to $3 months in prison, and that's the sentence Blakely expected when he pled guilty.

However, the judge heard testimony that the defendant had accosted his wife with a knife, wrapped her in duct tape and put her in a wooden coffin in the back of his pickup. This extreme cruelty called for a more severe punishment, the judge said, and he imposed a 90-month prison term.

In Blakely v. Washington, Justice Scalia said this extra sentence was unconstitutional. "Our precedents make clear that the 'statutory maximum' ... 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," he said. "When a judge inflicts punishment that the jury's verdict alone does not allow ... the judge exceeds his proper authority," said Scalia.

His opinion was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

VULNERABLE SENTENCES

The dissenters called the ruling a disaster in the making. "What I have feared most has now come to pass: Over 20 years of sentencing reform are all but lost, and tens of thousands of criminal judgments are in jeopardy," said Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Court Report: States Lose a Few in This Term's U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.