On Jan. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s sentencing law, saying it gives judges too much leeway to hike sentences based on facts not found by the jury. The fallout of the California v. Cunningham (.pdf) could be thousands of cases in which sentences must be reconsidered. Sort through the chaos with our Hot Topic page.

“We revert to our (pre-Black) conclusion that imposition of an upper term upon defendant was error,” Justice Douglas Swager wrote in an unpublished opinion (.pdf) in June. Justices James Marchiano and Sandra Margulies concurred. (They left a two-year consecutive sentence for Hughes’ second count, however, intact.)

Alas for Hughes, about a month after that ruling in his favor, the California Supreme Court issued a pair of sentencing decisions that allowed for an exception to the general rule: They said a judge may impose a harsher sentence as long as at least one aggravating factor has been established by a jury, or a defendant’s admissions or prior convictions.

Last week Hughes felt the trickledown effect: The Supreme Court directed the First District “to vacate its decision and reconsider” his case, in light of People v. Black, 07 C.D.O.S. 8538, and People v. Sandoval, 07 C.D.O.S. 8528.

Millie Lapidario

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