Friday, May 14, 2010

Issues surrounding Lubbock case could fill a law school seminar

Knowing there were implications regarding federal sentencing litigation over the last few years, I forwarded Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy a link to a remarkable Lubbock case where a jury yesterday sentenced a defendant to life for assault on an elderly man, based largely on alleged crimes raised in the punishment phase (including child molestation) for which he'd never been found guilty. Berman's take:

This little story has so many interesting elements, I could imagine structuring an entire seminar focused on the question about whether this case vindicates or eviscerates the constitutional principles developed in Apprendi and Blakely.

If we think the most important constitutional principles of Apprendi and Blakely concern ensuring that a jury of peers, rather than just an "elite" judge, be involved in determining sentencing outcomes, then one might conclude that these Sixth Amendment interests were vindicated in this case. But I tend to read Blakely and especially Apprendi as expressing concerns about sentences being increased based on facts not found by traditional due process standards.

I suspect that at least some members of the Apprendi and Blakely majorities would be troubled by how Prieto got a life sentence. Moreover, I suspect even some members of the Apprendi and Blakely dissents might be a bit worried as to whether Fifth Amendment due process interests were fully served here (especially if Prieto did not get advance notice that his sentencing on the aggravated robbery conviction was going to be a essentially a trial and sentencing on his daughter's allegations of rape). And, of course, three members (and soon to be four) members of the current Supreme Court were not Justices at the time of Apprendi and Blakely and thus we can only speculate about what they may think about how Prieto got a life sentence here.


Anonymous said...

Grits, this is not a "remarkable case." First of all, it was not an "assault of an elderly man" as you put it. According to article you link to, it was an Aggravated Robbery of an elderly man and the victim was beaten with "a saw and a pipe." That conduct, in and of itself, will buy you a life sentence in many Texas counties. Just because one is technically "eligible" for probation in an aggravated first degree felony case doesn't mean it's appropriate. Plenty of child molesters and murderers screw up bad enough on their first offense to get a life or 99 year sentence.

Although the article doesn't say, you can bet the defense attorney sought and received an "extraneous offense" notice from the prosecution in this case. The jury was also likely instructed not to consider the extraneous offenses unless they believed the proof regarding those offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, "due process" concerns were satisfied.

There is absolutely NO Blakely or Apprendi issue here. Texas law (and other states) has allowed the admission of unadjudicated extraneous offenses at the punishment phase of trials since the beginning of time. By the same token, defendants are also allowed to introduce mitigation evidence or evidence of good character as well. Reputation evidence, good and bad, is also fair game at punishment.

Don't know who this Berman character is that you cite, but you either need to give him more facts next time, or he needs to brush up on sentencing law.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nobody said Blakely or Apprendi applied, 3:00, and certainly not Berman. He only asked "whether this case vindicates or eviscerates the constitutional principles" behind those cases, he did not claim to supply a legal interpretation favorable to the defendant or confuse state and federal court.

Try not to get your dander up over so little - it's bad for the blood pressure.

Anonymous said...

Justice on the Giant Side of Texas.