Federal Appeals Lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi’s Latest U.S.S.G. Awareness Campaign Installment Focuses on Cunningham v. California 127 S. Ct. 856

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In the 18th and latest installment in his U.S.S.G. awareness campaign, Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi looks at Cunningham v. California 127 S. Ct. 856, in which the Supreme Court held that California’s determinate sentencing law (DSL) was in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

Federal Appeals Lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi Focuses on Cunningham v. California in U.S.S.G. Awareness Campaign

Federal Appeals Lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi Focuses on Cunningham v. California in U.S.S.G. Awareness Campaign

When we permit judges to eschew juries with respect to increasing sentences, we essentially trade fairness for expediency.

In the latest installment of key cases that have defined current United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.), Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi is focusing on Cunningham v. California 127 S. Ct. 856, in which the Supreme Court held that California’s determinate sentencing law (DSL) was in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

In the case, the defendant and petitioner Cunningham was convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14. Per California’s DSL, Cunningham faced one of three precise imprisonment lengths: 6 years on the lower end, 12 years on the middle end, or 16 years on the higher end. At his sentencing, the trial judge identified six aggravating factors, and just one mitigating factor (no prior convictions). Based on this – and, notably, without a jury -- the judge sentenced Cunningham to the maximum 16 years.

Cunningham appealed on the basis that, per the sentencing judge’s decision to increase his sentence to the higher end of the DSL spectrum, his right to a trial by jury as assured under the Sixth Amendment had been violated. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the sentence, and a further appeal petition to the Supreme Court of California was denied a review on the basis that an earlier case (People v Black 35 Cal 4th 1238, 29) held the DSL to be in line with the Sixth Amendment. Cunningham appealed to the Supreme Court, which in a 6-3 decision overturned the sentence.

In its lead judgment, the Supreme Court held that the DSL was inherently unconstitutional. While it obliged judges to identify aggravating factors before rendering an upper range sentence, those factors didn’t have to be sent to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This violated a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.

“The Supreme Court’s view was in line with previous decisions, including Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000), Blakely v, Washington (2004), and United States v Booker (2005), respectively, which affirmed the view that any fact that exposes a defendant to a sentence that is in excess of either a statutory minimum or standard range must be established by a jury – not a judge – and proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” commented Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi. “More than sending a clear message to trial judges, the ruling highlights a critical aspect of sentencing guidelines systems that should never be overlooked: while they can make the judicial system more efficient -- especially with respect to cutting down on the volume of sentence-based appeals -- that is not their purpose. They exist to make sentencing more consistent with Congress’ -- and, ultimately, with society’s – intentions. As such, when we permit judges to eschew juries with respect to increasing sentences, we lose sight of this fact and, essentially, trade fairness for expediency. That’s a very dangerous and risky path that, history has repeatedly demonstrated, leads to far more harm that good in the long run.”

Mr. Preziosi’s full analysis of Cunningham v. California 127 S. Ct. 856 is available on his firm’s website at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com/federal-sentencing-judicial-determination-of-facts-violates-sixth-amendment/

For more information or media inquiries, email newyorkappellatelawyer(at)gmail(dot)com or phone (212) 300-3845.

About the Appellate Law Office of Stephen N. Preziosi, P.C.

Federal appeals lawyer Stephen N. Preziosi handles criminal appeals in all U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and in New York State Appellate Courts (including Appellate Divisions and the New York Court of Appeals). Whether a case is under the Penal Law in New York State Courts or under Federal Law in the U.S. District Courts, Mr. Preziosi has extensive experience with all types of appellate matters in both the New York State Courts and the Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal. Mr. Preziosi has pursued appellate cases in the Appellate Divisions, the Appellate

Terms and the highest court in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals. He has also taken on cases in the various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, and successfully identified legal issues, designed and written briefs and conducted oral argument. The firm’s practice is concentrated in the area of appeals in criminal matters in both State and Federal Courts, and Mr. Preziosi recently launched a United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) awareness campaign to help the general public learn more about this critically important and influential aspect of criminal law.

Learn more at http://www.newyorkappellatelawyer.com.

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