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March 13, 2005

Insights on Shepard and its impact in California

In my coverage of the Supreme Court's opaque work in Shepard (basics summarized here, commentary here and here and here), I have particularly stressed the impact of the Almendarez-Torres prior conviction exception — and its potential demise — on state sentencing systems.  (For example, prior posts have included Shepard briefs from New Jersey and North Carolina).  The folks at the First District Appellate Project have now filled out the Shepard story for California in a terrific memo, available here, entitled "Making Use of Shepard v. United States in California Cases."

Authored Jonathan D. Soglin, Staff Attorney at First District Appellate Project, the California Shepard memo provides a detailed summary of the Shepard opinions and then explains in detail the decision's potential impact on current and future California sentencing litigation. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

Although Shepard ultimately was not decided on constitutional grounds, it is important for California cases because:

  • Shepard confirms that there are enough votes on the Supreme Court to hold that there is a federal constitutional right to a jury trial on prior conviction allegations and, thus, to overrule the Almendarez-Torres v. U.S. (1998) 523 US 224 prior-conviction exception to Apprendi and Blakely;
  • Shepard confirms that although Almendarez-Torres remains controlling authority, it should be read very narrowly to only apply to facts established by the record of conviction; and
  • assuming that Almendarez-Torres remains good law, Shepard nevertheless restricts the documents that can be used to prove whether a prior convictions satisfies the requirements of the enhancement statute.

March 13, 2005 at 11:11 AM | Permalink


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