Many Washington state criminals deemed the worst by judges in the past two decades won’t be able to fight their exceptionally long prison terms even though the way they were sentenced has since been found unconstitutional, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the decision likely dampens the hopes of hundreds of prisoners who were given long sentences. “It’s very good news,” King County Deputy Prosecutor Deborah Dwyer said. “The people who got exceptional sentences were, as we said all along, the worst of the worst.”
Yesterday’s decision centered on a momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that said Washington had been improperly letting judges hand down extra-long prison sentences for two decades. It said juries, not judges, should decide whether there were reasons to give people harsher-than-usual sentences — and those reasons must be found beyond a reasonable doubt. The state Supreme Court was left to decide what to do with state prisoners serving such sentences. In yesterday’s unanimous ruling, it said last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling didn’t apply to old cases, leaving most prisoners right where they are. The exception is prisoners who are still appealing — generally, the more recent cases — because their convictions are not yet final. They may still be able to get new sentencing hearings and try to seek lighter terms.