542 U.S. 296 (2004), 02-1632, Blakely v. Washington

Docket Nº:No. 02-1632
Citation:542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403, 72 U.S.L.W. 4546
Case Date:June 24, 2004
Court:United States Supreme Court

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542 U.S. 296 (2004)

124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403, 72 U.S.L.W. 4546




No. 02-1632

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 2004

Argued March 23, 2004

Rehearing Denied Aug. 23, 2004. See 542 U.S. 961, 125 S.Ct. 21.


[124 S.Ct. 2533] Syllabus [*]

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. 2536-2543.

(a) This case requires the Court to apply the rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435, 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, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 91 L.Ed.2d 67, and Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241, 69 S.Ct. 1079, 93 L.Ed. 1337, 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. 2536-2538.

(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. 2538-2540.

(c) This case is not about the constitutionality of determinate sentencing, but only about how it can be implemented in a way that respects

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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. 2540-2543.

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

[124 S.Ct. 2534] 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, post, p. 2543. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined, post, p. 2550. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 2551.


Michael R. Dreeben, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the respondent.

John D. Knodell, Prosecuting Attorney, Counsel of Record, Teresa J. Chen, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Ephrata, WA, for State of Washington.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, Counsel of Record, Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, Seattle, WA, for Petitioner.


SCALIA, Justice.

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Petitioner Ralph Howard Blakely, Jr., pleaded guilty to the kidnaping of his estranged wife. The facts admitted in his plea, standing alone, supported a maximum sentence of 53 months. Pursuant to state law, the court imposed an "exceptional" sentence of 90 months after making a judicial determination that he had acted with "deliberate cruelty." App. 40, 49. We consider whether this violated petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. I

Petitioner married his wife Yolanda in 1973. He was evidently a difficult man to live with, having been diagnosed at various times with psychological and personality disorders including paranoid schizophrenia. His wife ultimately filed for divorce. In 1998, he abducted her from their orchard home in Grant County, Washington, binding her with duct tape and forcing her at knifepoint into a wooden box in the bed of his pickup truck. In the process, he implored her to dismiss the divorce suit and related trust proceedings.

When the couple's 13-year-old son Ralphy returned home from school, petitioner ordered him to follow in another car, threatening to harm Yolanda with a shotgun if he did not do so. Ralphy escaped and sought help when they stopped at a gas station, but petitioner continued on with Yolanda to a friend's house in Montana. He was finally arrested after the friend called the police.

The State charged petitioner with first-degree kidnaping, Wash. Rev.Code Ann. § 9A.40.020(1) (2000). [1] Upon reaching a plea agreement, however, it reduced the charge to second-degree kidnaping involving domestic violence and use Page 299

of a firearm, see §§ 9A.40.030(1), 10.99.020(3)(p), 9.94A.125. [2] Petitioner entered a guilty plea [124 S.Ct. 2535] admitting the elements of second-degree kidnaping and the domestic-violence and firearm allegations, but no other relevant facts.

The case then proceeded to sentencing. In Washington, second-degree kidnaping is a class B felony. § 9A.40.030(3). State law provides that "[n]o person convicted of a [class B] felony shall be punished by confinement ... exceeding ... a term of ten years." § 9A.20.021(1)(b). Other provisions of state law, however, further limit the range of sentences a judge may impose. Washington's Sentencing Reform Act specifies, for petitioner's offense of second-degree kidnaping with a firearm, a "standard range" of 49 to 53 months. See § 9.94A.320 (seriousness level V for second-degree kidnaping); App. 27 (offender score 2 based on § 9.94A.360); § 9.94A.310(1), box 2-V (standard range of 13-17 months); § 9.94A.310(3)(b) (36-month firearm enhancement). [3] A judge may impose a sentence above the standard range if he finds "substantial and compelling reasons justifying an exceptional sentence." § 9.94A.120(2). The Act lists aggravating factors that justify such a departure, which it recites to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. § 9.94A.390. Nevertheless, "[a] reason offered to justify an exceptional sentence can be considered only if it takes into account factors other than those which are used in computing the standard range sentence for the offense." State v. Gore, 143 Wash.2d 288, 315-316, 21 P.3d 262, 277 (2001). When a judge imposes an exceptional sentence, he must set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting it. § 9.94A.120(3). A reviewingPage 300

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." Id., at 315, 21 P.3d, at 277 (citing § 9.94A.210(4)).

Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State recommended a sentence within the standard range of 49 to 53 months. After hearing Yolanda's description of the kidnaping, however, the judge rejected the State's recommendation and imposed an exceptional sentence of 90 months--37 months beyond the standard maximum. He justified the sentence on the ground that petitioner had acted with "deliberate cruelty," a statutorily enumerated ground for departure in domestic-violence cases. § 9.94A.390(2)(h)(iii). [4]

Faced with an unexpected increase of more than three years in his sentence, petitioner objected.

The judge accordingly conducted a 3-day bench hearing featuring testimony from petitioner, Yolanda, Ralphy, a police officer, and medical experts. After the hearing, he issued 32 findings of fact, concluding:

"The defendant's motivation to commit kidnapping was complex, contributed to by his mental condition and personality disorders, the pressures of the divorce litigation, the impending trust litigation trial and anger over his troubled interpersonal relationships with his spouse and children.

While he misguidedly intended to forcefully reunite his [124 S.Ct. 2536] family, his attempt to do so was subservient to his desire to terminate lawsuits and modify title ownerships to his benefit.

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"The defendant's methods were more homogeneous than his motive. He used stealth and surprise, and took advantage of the victim's isolation. He immediately employed physical violence, restrained the victim with tape, and threatened her with injury and death to herself and others. He immediately coerced the victim into providing information by the threatening application of a knife. He violated a subsisting restraining order." App. 48-49.

The judge adhered to his initial determination of deliberate cruelty.

Petitioner appealed, arguing that this 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. The State Court of Appeals affirmed, 111 Wash.App. 851, 870-871, 47 P.3d 149, 159 (2002), relying on the Washington Supreme Court's rejection of a similar challenge in Gore, supra, at 311-315, 21 P.3d, at 275-277....

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