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May 23, 2005

Colorado Supreme Court applies Blakely!

This morning in Lopez v. People, No. 04SC150 (Colo. May 23, 2005) (available here), the Colorado Supreme Court issued a major ruling concening the application of Blakely in the Mile High state. Here is are the official abstract of what looks like a long and thoughtful opinion in Lopez:

The Supreme Court holds that section 181.3401(6) aggravated sentencing, based on a sentencing judge finding the presence of extraordinary aggravating circumstances, is constitutional in light of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 124 S. Ct. 2531 (2004), if it is based on one of at least four Blakely-compliant or Blakely-exempt types of aggravators: 1) facts found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt; 2) facts admitted by the defendant; 3) facts found by a judge after the defendant stipulates to judicial factfinding for sentencing purposes; and 4) facts regarding prior convictions.

The Court expects that this holding, implementing the Supreme Court's Blakely decision, will apply only to a limited number of cases.  First, it will apply retroactively only to cases pending on appeal.  Second, in the future, the legislature may enact a statute that responds to the United States Supreme Court's holdings in Apprendi, Blakely, and Booker by adopting a statute that does not place the trial court into the position of finding facts in order to aggravate sentences.  Third, under the current statute, prosecutors arranging plea agreements, or trial courts considering guilty pleas, can insist that defendants admit to those facts potentially needed for aggravated sentencing. Fourth, the jury can be asked by interrogatory to determine facts potentially needed for aggravated sentencing. Fifth, and most important to the case before us, the full range of mitigated, presumptive and aggravated sentencing remains available under the statute if based on constitutionally-permissible facts, in accordance with Blakely.

Under section 181.3401(6), the existence of a constitutionally-permissible aggravating or mitigating fact widens the sentencing range to a floor of one-half the presumptive minimum up to a ceiling of double the presumptive maximum. The sentencing judge then has full discretion to sentence within this widened range according to traditional sentencing considerations.  However, if the trial judge must find additional facts in order to impose a sentence outside of the presumptive range, the rule of Blakely applies. 

The aggravated sentence in this case was imposed in part on the basis of a prior conviction, and the Court holds that one constitutionally valid aggravator is sufficient to support an aggravated sentence under section 181.3401(6).  Accordingly, the Court affirms the court of appeals' judgment upholding the aggravated sentence for possession of cocaine in this case.

May 23, 2005 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

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