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October 1, 2004

Minnesota's Long-Term Report

Right on time, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission has followed up the short-term recommendations it made to Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in response to Blakely (available here with commentary here and here) with a set of long-term recommendations on Blakely. And the link to the report now seems to be working; the report can be accesed here.

Though I will do substantive commentary on the new Minnesota report in subsequent posts, I want to start by complementing the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission for its thoughtful and balanced discussion of legal issues and also its obvious effort to present data in a public and accessible manner for lawyers, policy-makers, researchers and other interested observers. Sadly, though the federal sentencing system is in dire need of thoughtful and balanced data-driven analysis, the US Sentencing Commission has not been as effective in publically analyzing Blakely and its impact (as lamented here and here). Once again, the federal system would benefit from following Minnesota's lead.

Helpfully, this latest Minnesota SG Commission report includes at various points a discussion of Blakely that should be of great interest to persons working outside of The North Star State. Particularly insightful are some of these passages from the report's conclusion:

The level of chaos surrounding the Blakely decision is determined in part on the structure of an individual state’s sentencing system. When sentencing enhancements are an integral part of the sentencing structure, such as with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the impact is much more significant and difficult to remedy. To add to the confusion of the last three months, the two cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan create even more apprehension as to what the outcome of those decisions may have on sentencing policies.

The Commission's analysis of the Blakely decision on sentencing in Minnesota indicates that there is limited impact. The sentencing guidelines remain constitutional, as do aggravated departures. The current procedure for imposing aggravated departures requires some modification to address the constitutional issues raised in Blakely, but the modifications are not extensive or far reaching, especially given the limited number of cases each year that receive aggravated departure sentences. In addition, there are a limited number of sentencing provisions or procedures that need to be modified or amended, but the majority of the modifications focus on language changes, amending forms or modifying trial procedures. The basic structure of the state's sentencing system remains intact and continues to provide for sentences that promote public safety and hold the defendant accountable, while ensuring the constitutional rights of the defendant are protected....

Although the recommendations presented in this report carry no legal force, they do provide a road map for the state with regard to sentencing policies and practices as both the state and federal courts work through the numerous issues surrounding the Blakely decision. If the state approaches the issues raised in the recent decision in a rational and methodical manner, the disruption and impact to the criminal justice system will be held to a tolerable level.

October 1, 2004 at 12:18 AM | Permalink

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