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July 22, 2019

An interesting accounting of the impact and import of Justice Stevens' sentencing jurisprudence

Stevens_cited-a2jThis new Law360 article, headlined "How Justice Stevens Protected The Rights Of The Accused," reviews a number the late Justice John Paul Stevens' biggest criminal justice opinion. Unsurprisingly, both Apprendi and Booker make the list, and even a third sentencing opinion makes the list of Justice Stevens' most cited cases. Here are excerpts from this piece:

Along with his humble tenor and penchant for bow ties, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also built a reputation as a defender of the rights of individuals caught in the criminal justice system and of access to the courts.

Over his nearly 35 years on the bench, the retired justice, who died Tuesday at the age of 99, crafted several opinions that either broadened individual rights within the justice system or protected those rights from assault.

From chipping away at capital punishment efforts in complicated situations to defending habeas corpus during wartime, Justice Stevens did not veer away from pulling together majority opinions on difficult cases. "I think he was very much an advocate and at the forefront of the court in terms of access to justice," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and founder of the Civil Justice Research Initiative, told Law360.

Three of the justice's most cited opinions deal with access to justice or criminal justice reform issues, according to Law360's analysis of data from Ravel Law....

After his retirement in 2010, Justice Stevens continued to be a regular advocate for criminal justice reforms and access to justice issues. In 2011, the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Representation Project named an award after him and the justice continued to speak out on the issues that had preoccupied him on the bench....

Here are five times Stevens came to the defense of access to justice.

Williams v. Taylor...

Apprendi v. New Jersey...

"The New Jersey procedure challenged in this case is an unacceptable departure from the jury tradition that is an indispensable part of our criminal justice system," said Stevens' opinion. Stevens' opinion additionally said that while trial practices can change over time, they must keep to the principles underlying the constitution's right to a jury and for that jury to have all the facts necessary to make their decision beyond a reasonable doubt.

For Shon Hopwood, a Georgetown University law professor, the case inspired him to join the profession after his own conviction for bank robbery. "His fine opinion in Apprendi v. New Jersey was what got me started studying law from a prison law library," Hopwood said in a social media post on Thursday.

Rasul v. Bush...

United States v. Booker

"We recognize ... that in some cases jury factfinding may impair the most expedient and efficient sentencing of defendants. But the interest in fairness and reliability protected by the right to a jury trial — a common-law right that defendants enjoyed for centuries and that is now enshrined in the Sixth Amendment — has always outweighed the interest in concluding trials swiftly," Justice Stevens said in his opinion.

Baze v. Rees

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