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August 17, 2004

Blakely news from California

One of my exciting Blakely questions for week (details here) was whether there would be any big Blakely news from the states. Though I am not sure the California intermediate appellate court decision in People v. Vonner, 2004 WL 1813998 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. Aug. 16, 2004), qualifies as big news, it is worth noting. Consider the opinion's first paragraph:

Contrary to the numerous contentions in the deluge of supplemental briefs now being filed in the California Appellate Courts, it is not at all clear that the United States Supreme Court opinion in Blakely v. Washington has sounded the death knell for California sentencing laws. It remains to be seen whether the Determinate Sentencing Law has been bruised, battered, or born into a better world. Here we only conclude that Blakely does not impact a sentencing court's imposition of a full consecutive sentence for an enumerated violent sex offense. (Pen.Code, ยง 667.6. subd. (c).)

Here's how the court in Vonner explains the defendant's Blakely/Apprendi argument and the court's rejection of that argument:

Citing Blakely, appellant contends that the trial court erred in imposing a full consecutive six year term on count 2 (forcible lewd conduct) after selecting the midterm six year sentence for lewd act on a child committed several weeks before count 2.

Appellant asserts that a consecutive sentence is tantamount to an Apprendi "enhancement." We disagree. [We have] explained that section 667.6 is an alternate sentencing scheme, not an enhancement. It does not increase the penalty beyond the prescribed statutory maximum. "Apprendi is relevant only where a judge-made factual determination increases the maximum statutory penalty for the particular crime...." (People v. Cleveland (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 263, 271.) That did not happen here.

Here the guilty verdicts subjected appellant to consecutive sentencing which the trial court was authorized to impose. The sentence was not based on any "fact" that the trial court found. The decision was based on the guilty verdicts and the statutory discretion given to the trial court by the Legislature. Appellant received less than the prescribed statutory maximum. He could have received a 16 year sentence.

Assuming, arguendo, that Blakely has some application in this context, any assumed error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury found appellant guilty of forcible lewd conduct and lewd conduct. Although not required, it is undisputed that the offenses were committed weeks apart. Partial reversal for some type of new trial on the question of consecutive sentences would not be authorized by law and would be an exaltation of form over substance. Moreover, we ask, what fact would the jury be instructed to find which could serve as a predicate to the imposition of consecutive sentences?

August 17, 2004 at 11:59 AM | Permalink


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Not really big news. Affects a limited class of cases. Result is not surprising. Still no word from California courts on the big issue: right to a jury trial on aggravating factors used to impose an upper term.

Posted by: Jonathan Soglin | Aug 17, 2004 1:36:55 PM

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