The Supreme Court today struck down a California law on determinate sentencing. The Associated Press said the ruling could mean shorter sentences for thousands of state prisoners. The decision in a case called Cunningham v. California cut four years off a 16-year sentence of a former police officer convicted of sexually abusing his son. It was another a series of high court decisions over seven years that limits judges’ discretion in sentencing defendants. The court has held that a judge may not increase a defendant’s sentence based on factors that were not determined by a jury. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote today’s decision for a 6-to-3 majority. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissent. The opoinion can be read at this site: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/05-6551.pdf
Several states have changed their sentencing laws to require prosecutors to prove to a jury aggravating factors that could lead to longer sentences. California argued that its law conformed with high court doctrine and that if it were overturned, its criminal justice system would be burdened by having to re-sentence thousands of inmates.