Attorney General Lockyer Praises State Supreme Court Decision Upholding California Sentencing Law

Ruling Upholds State Scheme That Gives Judges Discretion To Impose Longer Terms

Monday, June 20, 2005
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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer issued the following statement on today's California Supreme Court decision in People v. Black, S126182, that upholds provisions of the state's determinate sentencing law that allow judges to impose longer criminal sentences based on aggravating factors.

"The court's important ruling validates a 28-year sentencing structure that has served well the criminal justice system and, more importantly, public safety. The state carefully constructed its sentencing system to protect defendants' right to a jury trial, and at the same time give judges appropriate leeway to impose longer terms when they find aggravating factors. The justices correctly determined California's laws comply with constitutional requirements and U.S. Supreme Court precedent."

The Black case has been closely watched as a key indicator of how California's Determinate Sentencing Law, enacted in 1977, would survive recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have constricted judges' sentencing discretion. In Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. 2531 (2004) and United States v. Booker, 125 S.Ct. 738 (2005), the high court restricted judges' ability to impose longer sentences based on facts not found by a jury.

California's law requires judges to impose the middle term, unless they determine lower or upper terms are warranted based on specific mitigating or aggravating factors. In Black, the California Supreme Court said the state's system differed from the schemes struck down in Blakely and Booker because it does not require judges to find elements of a crime not presented to the jury and provides defendants notice and a jury trial on facts that allow judges to impose the upper term. The justices also upheld provisions in California law that allow judges to impose consecutive sentences when defendants are convicted of two or more crimes.

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