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October 11, 2006

Cunningham looks to be another state case about federal sentencing

I have now heard from three different terrific sources that this morning's SCOTUS argument in Cunningham, which was technically about Blakely's applicability in California, ended up being all about reasonableness and federal sentencing.  (I am inclined to say, "I told you so," to anyone who might have been wondering why I have been making a big deal about this case (as detailed in this category archive).)

Here is part of a great report on the argument that Lyle Denniston already has up here at SCOTUSblog:

A few minutes into the Supreme Court's hearing Wednesday on a California criminal sentencing case, it already had become clear that the case is not really about a specific state sentencing law but is all about what is constitutionally "reasonable" in any system that gives a judge discretion to impose an enhanced prison term.  And behind that question lies the future of the federal guidelines system in the wake of the Court's 2005 ruling in Booker v. U.S. In fact, much of the hour's argument in Cunningham v. California (05-6551) amounted to a seminar on Booker.

UPDATE:  The Cunningham transcript is now available here (bless those quick same-day transcribers).  I'll likely blog a lot about the argument once I have a chance to read the transcript closely.

MORE REPORTS:  Baylor Law Prof. Mark Osler was kind enough to file a thoughtful report on taody's oral argument, which can be downloaded below.  Here are some highlights:

The Court seemed much more focused on the federal guidelines than state issues, a focus established at the start of arguments by Chief Justice Roberts, who opined that the California system looked much like the federal guidelines.  The focus on federal issues may in part have been created by the fact that the California Supreme Court gave the state's defenders little to work with in this appeal. Justice Breyer was befuddled by what that court was trying to say about Booker in the Black opinion, and none of the justices seemed to buy the argument that the California system passes muster because it's requirements and prohibitions are based on "reasonableness."

After the arguments this morning, I think the Court is likely to hold that the California Determinate Sentencing Law (DSL) is unconstitutional, and that the resulting opinion may have a significant impact on the federal guidelines in perhaps far-reaching ways.

Download cunningham_report_from_osler.doc

October 11, 2006 at 01:18 PM | Permalink


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At Crime & Consequences, Ken Scheidegger declares, after reading the transcript in Musladin, that "Ginsburg Gets It." At Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman reflects on the oral argument in Cunningham. Doug also had an earlier post about the argumen... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 11, 2006 6:50:38 PM


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