About Sentences and Periods

The Supreme Court this morning takes up a very important case about sentencing rules for criminal defendants, one that is sure to determine the fate of California's sentencing scheme but also perhaps give much-needed definition to the Court's 2005 landmark ruling that gave back some discretion to federal judges to determine sentences under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In Cunningham v. California, the Justices are going to look at a case involving the sexual abuse of a child by a former police officer.

The defendant, John Cunningham, was sentenced by a state court judge to a maximum of 16 years in prison but the question in the case is whether that judge based that sentence upon factors other than those found beyond a reasonable doubt by Cunningham's jurors. That appears to be a no-no based upon a few recent Supreme Court decisions which have held that a defendant can only receive a longer sentence if the "aggravating factors" supporting it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Cunningham case is just one of two important sentencing cases this term. I will keep you posted.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 11, 2006; 8:30 AM ET
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