Sentencing Guidelines Struck Down by the Supreme Court

Sentencing Guidelines Struck Down by the Supreme Court

Kate Stith, Professor at Yale Law School and

William Stuntz, Professor at Harvard Law School

have contributed an Op-Ed article entitled “Sense and Sentencing” to the New York Times.

The article discusses the Blakely v. Washington decision just handed down by the US Supreme Court in a case involving sentencing guidlelines and their conflict with the right to jury trial under the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, writing:

“Petitioner Ralph Howard Blakely, Jr., pleaded guilty to the kidnaping of his estranged wife. The facts admitted in his plea, standing alone, supported a maximum sentence of 53 months. Pursuant to state law, the court imposed an “exceptional” sentence of 90 months after making a judicial determination that he had acted with “deliberate cruelty.” App. 40, 49. We consider whether this violated petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury….

[Petitioner argued that the] sentencing procedure deprived him of his federal constitutional right to have a jury determine beyond a reasonable doubt all facts legally essential to his sentence….

This case requires us to apply the rule we expressed in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000): “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.” …

By reversing the judgment below, we are not, as the State would have it, “find[ing] determinate sentencing schemes unconstitutional.” Brief for Respondent 34. This case is not about whether determinate sentencing is constitutional, only about how it can be implemented in a way that respects the Sixth Amendment….

Ultimately, our decision cannot turn on whether or to what degree trial by jury impairs the efficiency or fairness of criminal justice. One can certainly argue that both these values would be better served by leaving justice entirely in the hands of professionals; many nations of the world, particularly those following civil-law traditions, take just that course. There is not one shred of doubt, however, about the Framers’ paradigm for criminal justice: not the civil-law ideal of administrative perfection, but the common-law ideal of limited state power accomplished by strict division of authority between judge and jury. As Apprendi held, every defendant has the right to insist that the prosecutor prove to a jury all facts legally essential to the punishment. Under the dissenters’ alternative, he has no such right. That should be the end of the matter.”

We definitely agree with Scalia on this particular decision and particularly with the reasoning found in that last quoted paragraph, which we find to be decisive.

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