Blakely v. Washington,
542 U.S. 296 (2004)

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certiorari to the court of appeals of washington

No. 02–1632. Argued March 23, 2004—Decided June 24, 2004

Petitioner pleaded guilty to kidnaping his estranged wife. The facts admitted in his plea, standing alone, supported a maximum sentence of 53 months, but the judge imposed a 90-month sentence after finding that petitioner had acted with deliberate cruelty, a statutorily enumerated ground for departing from the standard range. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner’s argument that the sentencing procedure deprived him of his federal constitutional right to have a jury determine beyond a reasonable doubt all facts legally essential to his sentence.

Held: Because the facts supporting petitioner’s exceptional sentence were neither admitted by petitioner nor found by a jury, the sentence violated his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. Pp. 5–18.

   (a) This case requires the Court to apply the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466, 490, that, “[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” The relevant statutory maximum for Apprendi purposes is the maximum a judge may impose based solely on the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant. Here, the judge could not have imposed the 90-month sentence based solely on the facts admitted in the guilty plea, because Washington law requires an exceptional sentence to be based on factors other than those used in computing the standard-range sentence. Petitioner’s sentence is not analogous to those upheld in McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U. S. 79, and Williams v. New York, 337 U. S. 241, which were not greater than what state law authorized based on the verdict alone. Regardless of whether the judge’s authority to impose the enhanced sentence depends on a judge’s finding a specified fact, one of several specified facts, or any aggravating fact, it remains the case that the jury’s verdict alone does not authorize the sentence. Pp. 5–9.

   (b) This Court’s commitment to Apprendi in this context reflects not just respect for longstanding precedent, but the need to give intelligible content to the fundamental constitutional right of jury trial. Pp. 9–12.

   (c) This case is not about the constitutionality of determinate sentencing, but only about how it can be implemented in a way that respects the Sixth Amendment. The Framers’ paradigm for criminal justice is the common-law ideal of limited state power accomplished by strict division of authority between judge and jury. That can be preserved without abandoning determinate sentencing and at no sacrifice of fairness to the defendant. Pp. 12–17.

111 Wash. App. 851, 47 P. 3d 149, reversed and remanded.

   Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. O’Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined, and in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Kennedy, J., joined except as to Part IV–B. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O’Connor, J., joined.

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