Parsing Sentences (Penal edition)

In a nice bit of timing, on Friday the Times featured Todd Spitzer's rejection of an attempt to rationalize California's criminal sentencing process and take politics out of it, and today the U.S. Supreme Court declared the state's Determinate Sentencing Law unconstitutional.

The Associated Press reports:

The Supreme Court struck down California's sentencing law Monday, reaffirming limits on judges' discretion and presaging shorter sentences for thousands of state prisoners.

The 6-3 ruling in Cunningham v. California effectively shaves four years off the 16-year sentence of former police officer John Cunningham, who was convicted of sexually abusing his son.

It's the latest in a series of high court rulings over the past seven years that limit judges' discretion in sentencing defendants. The court has held repeatedly that a judge may not increase a defendant's sentence based on factors that were not determined by a jury.

"This court has repeatedly held that, under the Sixth Amendment, any fact that exposes a defendant to a greater potential sentence must be found by the jury, not a judge, and established beyond a reasonable doubt, not merely by a preponderance of the evidence," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  wrote for the court.


Rather than prescribing a way to fix the law, Ginsburg said, "The ball lies in California's court."

"The state," the AP notes, "warned that its criminal justice system would be burdened by having to re-sentence thousands of inmates."  Well, as tough guy ex-prosecutors like Spitzer (so tough he finds execution by drugs even veterinarians

won't use to put sick animals out of their misery "humane", and "poorly trained" executioners "professional"

), don't do the unconstitutional sentencing, if you can't do the re-sentencing of your prisoners to their properly determined time.


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