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May 29, 2007

A cold SCOTUS sentencing start to a hot summer

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and it should be a hot one for sentencing fans with the still pending Claiborne and Rita cases, the upcoming Libby sentencing and congressional hearings all in the works.  But, as detailed here at SCOTUSblog, the Justices got back to work after the long weekend without much for sentencing fans to get excited about. 

The Justices issued only one opinion today (a labor law issue producing another 5-4 partisan split).  And the set of cert grants, except for a case with what seems like a little federal prisoner rights issue, have little of interest for criminal justice folks.

Significantly, the Justices denied cert today in Washington v. VanDelft, a state case that raised effectively whether Blakely applies to judicial factfinding supporting the imposition of consecutive rather than concurrent sentences.  I am inclined to guess that the Justices are a bit tired of Blakely issues as they sort through Claiborne and Rita.  (I am hoping, however, that the Justices are interested in judicial factfinding again when my supervised release case, discussed here and here, comes up for review in a few weeks.)

UPDATE:  Kent at Crime & Consequences here notes the VanDelft denial and also details that these sort of Blakely issues are up before the California Supreme COurt in the wake of Cunningham.

May 29, 2007 at 10:51 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on May 29, 2007 4:20:27 PM


I don't read anything into the VanDelft denial. Foremost, the case was plagued with procedural problems that made it a poor vehicle for certiorari review -- arguably the Court didn't even have certiorari jurisdiction over the case. Second, this was a case where the Washington Supreme Court's interpretation of its own state statute resulted in a *victory* for the defendant. To the extent the Court was not prepared to overrule Washington's characterization of its own state statute, the result appears clearly harmonious with Blakely. And everyone would concede that VanDelft was not a case where the defendant was a *victim* of a Blakely error. We have yet to see the Court take a Blakely case where the state government is the petitioner (I'm excluding Booker because that involved the feds). It's not surprising that this would be the case. The Court rarely grants cert to correct a state court's "overreading" of a constitutional right, particularly where the state legislature has a very easy fix (i.e. make the imposition of consecutive sentences completely discretionary with the judge, with no fact finding required).

Posted by: Aaron | May 29, 2007 12:45:52 PM

"The Court rarely grants cert to correct a state court's 'overreading' of a constitutional right..."

Just from the list of cases my organization has participated in, such cases include Illinois v. Wardlow, Texas v. Cobb, Virginia v. Black, Virginia v. Hicks, Illinois v. Lidster, Florida v. Nixon, Kansas v. Marsh, and Washington v. Recuenco.

It is quite possible, as Aaron says, that the case was a poor vehicle for other reasons, though.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 29, 2007 6:46:26 PM

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