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Law School Case Brief

Blakely v. Washington - 542 U.S. 296

Rule:

When a judge imposes an exceptional sentence, he must set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting it. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.94A.120(3). A reviewing court will reverse the sentence if it finds that under a clearly erroneous standard there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the reasons for imposing an exceptional sentence. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.94A.210(4).

Facts:

Petitioner pled guilty to kidnapping his estranged wife. Pursuant to state law, the trial court imposed an "exceptional" sentence of 90 months after making a judicial determination that he acted with deliberate cruelty. Petitioner appealed, arguing the sentencing procedure violated his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. The State Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Washington Supreme Court denied discretionary review. Certiorari was granted.

Issue:

Does the State’s sentencing procedure comply with Sixth Amendment?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The judge in the case could not have imposed the exceptional 90-month sentence solely on the basis of the facts admitted in the guilty plea. Those facts alone were insufficient because a reason offered to justify an exceptional sentence could be considered only if it took into account factors other than those which were used in computing the standard range sentence for the offense, which in this case included the elements of second-degree kidnapping and the use of a firearm. Had the judge imposed the 90-month sentence solely on the basis of the plea, he would have been reversed. The jury's verdict alone did not authorize the sentence.

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