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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Justices Affirm Judges’ Discretion in Sentencing

(CN) - The state of Oregon did not violate the U.S. Constitution by allowing judges, rather than juries, to decide whether defendants should serve consecutive or concurrent sentences for multiple offenses, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment prevents judges from determining that certain facts increase the maximum punishment for a particular crime.

In the case against Thomas Eugene Ice, the trial judge ruled that his sentences for repeat burglary and sexual assault should run consecutively. Ice was convicted of first-degree burglary and two counts of first-degree assault for twice entering an 11-year-old girl's house and sexually assaulting her.

The trial judge found that his repeat offenses constituted separate incidents and gave him consecutive sentences for all but the sentences for touching the victim's breasts.

Ice argued that Oregon's sentencing statute unconstitutionally placed some of the fact-finding power in the hands of the judge, rather than the jury.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it was not up to the jury to determine how to handle multiple sentences.

"The decision to impose sentences consecutively is not within the jury function that 'extends down centuries into common law,'" Justice Ginsburg wrote. "Instead, specification of the regime for administering multiple sentences has long been considered the prerogative of state Legislatures."

In dissent, Justice Scalia said the precedent was clear: "Any fact - other than that of a prior conviction - that increases the maximum punishment to which a defendant may be sentenced must be admitted by the defendant or proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury."

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