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April 15, 2005

Tennessee dodges Blakely, so says divided state supreme court

This morning I speculated here, as a follow up to yesterday's major Washington Supreme Court ruling in Hughes about the application of Blakely, that we might be seeing some other state supreme court rulings on Blakely soon. Today the Tennessee State Supreme Court has made me look like a genius by releasing a major Blakely ruling which holds, in a split 3-2 decision, that Tennessee's criminal sentencing laws do not violate the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial and were not affected by Blakely and Booker.

The decision is Tennessee v. Gomez and Londono, and you can access the majority opinion here and the partial dissent here.  Here is just a portion of a lengthy report on the decision that I received via e-mail:

Chief Justice Frank F. Drowota, III, writing for the majority, said enhanced sentences a judge imposed on Edwin Gomez and Jonathan S. Londono were not unconstitutional.  The defendants are not entitled to relief based on United States v. Booker and Blakely v. Washington, Drowota wrote. Justices William M. Barker and Janice M. Holder concurred in the decision. "We conclude that Tennessee's sentencing structure does not violate the Sixth Amendment," Drowota wrote.

In a separate concurring/dissenting opinion, Justice E. Riley Anderson disagreed and said the Blakely decision invalidates the enhanced sentences Gomez and Londono received.  Anderson was joined in his dissent by Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr. "In my view, the presumptive sentences set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated established a fixed point for the defendants' sentences such that the upward departure, based solely on findings made by the trial judge, was imposed in violation of Blakely and therefore violated the defendants' Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury," Anderson wrote....

[The defendants] claimed that under Blakely their sentences should have been the "presumptive minimum" defined by state law. Noting the court's duty "to indulge every presumption in favor of the constitutionality of statutes," the majority rejected the defendants' claim.  "In Booker all nine justices agreed that the Sixth Amendment is not implicated by a sentencing statute which permits judge fact-finding, but which does not mandate imposition of any increased sentence upon the judge's finding of a fact," Drowota wrote.  The majority explained that, unlike the statutes in Booker and Blakely, Tennessee's sentencing statute does not mandate an increased sentence when a judge finds an enhancement factor. Even after a judge finds an enhancement factor, the judge retains discretion to select any sentence within the statutory range, including the presumptive minimum sentence.  The Tennessee statute, Drowota wrote, "does not provide a system which requires or even allows judicial power to infringe upon the province of the jury."

The chief justice wrote, "some defendants will choose to raise and pursue Sixth Amendment Blakely-type claims in the hope that the United States Supreme Court will ultimately disagree with our determination of this issue, and nothing in this decision precludes them from doing so." The majority said its decision is not a "comment upon the work or recommendations" of a Task Force appointed by Governor Phil Bredesen in response to the Blakely decision.

"Determining whether the recommendations of the Task Force should be adopted in whole or in part is a matter for the Governor and the General Assembly," Drowota wrote.  The dissent noted the task force proposal would eliminate the statutory presumptive sentence, making the state sentencing act constitutional.

The court also reviewed and unanimously rejected a claim by Gomez and Londono that the testimony by a police detective concerning the statement of another defendant who was tried separately violated their Sixth Amendment right to confrontation.

April 15, 2005 at 12:58 PM | Permalink


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