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Cunningham v. California

549 U.S. 270 (2007)

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Cunningham v. California

United States Supreme Court

549 U.S. 270 (2007)

Facts

John Cunningham (defendant) was convicted in California state court of continuous sexual abuse of a child less than 14 years old. California’s determinate sentencing law (DSL) implemented sentencing triads, which allowed trial courts to impose one of three fixed term sentences (a lower, middle, and upper term). The DSL required the trial court to impose the middle term unless the court found that aggravating or mitigating circumstances existed. The DSL and judicial rules implementing the DSL permitted judges rather than jurors to determine whether aggravating circumstances existed under a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. Under the DSL, the trial judge could sentence Cunningham to six, 12, or 16 years of incarceration. After a sentencing hearing, Cunningham’s trial judge found that six aggravating circumstances and one mitigating circumstance existed. The trial judge determined that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstance and sentenced Cunningham to the 16-year upper term. The California Court of Appeal affirmed Cunningham’s conviction and sentence, and the California Supreme Court denied review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether California’s DSL was an unconstitutional sentencing scheme.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Ginsburg, J.)

Dissent (Alito, J.)

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