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December 1, 2004

A peculiar (but important) Blakely ruling in Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court truly had an eventful first day of December.  As detailed here, the court was forced to reverse a death sentence imposed on a defendant who gruesomely murdered two Ohio college students for lack of jurisdiction.   In addition, the court rendered a quirky, and yet perhaps quite important, Blakely-related ruling in State ex rel. Mason v. Griffin, __ Ohio St.3d __, 2004-Ohio-6384 (Dec. 1, 2004) (available here).

Mason did not directly address Blakely's applicability to Ohio's sentencing scheme (which is, as detailed here and here and here, an issue of much controversy).  Rather, the case considered whether a Judge Burt Griffin (who happens to be one of the prime authors of Ohio's sentencing laws) had authority to convene a sentencing jury to make findings that might be required in Blakely.  The Ohio Supreme Court, noting a lack of statutory authority, ruled that a court lacked this authority.  As it explained:

Neither the Ohio Constitution nor any statute authorizes Judge Griffin to conduct a jury-sentencing hearing.... No statute authorizes Judge Griffin to convene a jury to make findings concerning sentencing in the underlying criminal cases.

In fact, the sentencing statutes pertinent to Moore’s criminal cases vest the exclusive responsibility to make these determinations in the court and not in a jury....

[I]nsofar as Judge Griffin determined that Blakely might render these statutes unconstitutional, he should apply the pertinent sentencing statutes without any enhancement provisions found to be unconstitutional by him. Instead, he ordered a hybrid procedure — a jury-sentencing hearing to make certain findings upon which he would base his sentencing decision — that is not sanctioned by any current or former version of a statute. That is, Judge Griffin had two choices: (1) apply the statutes as if Blakely did not render them unconstitutional and conduct a sentencing hearing without a jury or (2) find the statutes unconstitutional under Blakely and refuse to impose those enhancement provisions he deemed unconstitutional. By choosing neither, he proceeded in a manner in which he patently and unambiguously lacked jurisdiction to act.

December 1, 2004 at 11:54 PM | Permalink

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