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December 1, 2005

Minnesota Supreme Court limits reach of "prior conviction" exception

While the federal courts, aided by Booker, continue to undermine Fifth and Sixth Amendment procedural rights at sentencing (see, e.g., today's Second Circuit ruling on enhancing sentences based on acquitted conduct), many state courts continue to give Blakely and procedural rights at sentencing the respect they seem to deserve.  For example, the Minnesota Supreme Court today in Minnesota v. Henderson, 03-1898 (Minn. Dec. 1, 2005) (available here), limited the reach of the "prior conviction" exception to Apprendi and Blakely.

Henderson involves a state sentencing enhancement based on a determination of a "pattern of criminal conduct," which the lower court said was not impacted by Blakely because it is "a legal conclusion, not a finding of fact."  The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed:

The relevant rule from Apprendi dictates that "[o]ther 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 proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490.  The Apprendi Court made it clear that recidivism is a narrow exception to the general rule that all facts going to punishment must be found by a jury.  Therefore, the additional findings involved in the comparison and weighing of bad conduct go beyond the acceptable parameters of the recidivism exception, because they involve more than the fact of prior convictions.  We hold that the determination of a pattern of criminal conduct under Minn. Stat. ยง 609.1095 goes beyond solely the fact of a prior conviction and, therefore, the imposition of an enhanced sentence based on the district court's finding of a pattern of criminal conduct violated Henderson's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

December 1, 2005 at 05:58 PM | Permalink

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