Tuesday, September 07, 2004

District Courts Weigh In

Some news from the district courts...

Keep the Presses Running

The Indiana Law Blog is reporting that Chief Judge Robert Miller Jr., of the U.S. District Court of Northern Indiana, will not postpone sentencing criminal defendants, despite a request from the prosecution to halt sentencing.


It’s worth a lot, to us.


Judge James B. Zagel has written an interesting (and seemingly self-deprecating) opinion in US v. Reyes-Acosta, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17635 (No. 04 CR 0126 ) (N.D. Ill., Sept. 2, 2004). Despite the fact that Judge Zagel easily dismisses the defendant's motion to withdraw his guikty plea, Judge Zagel's opinion discusses several topic s of interest.

The central issue in the case was that Reyes-Acosta invoked Blakely as a reason for why he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. Judge Zagel characterizes Reyes-Acosta’s argument as follows:

The theory of the motion to withdraw is that the defendant was forced to admit to the facts of his prior conviction. If he had failed to do so, the government could contend that he had not fully accepted responsibility, which would effectively add 3 levels to his final offense total.

Judge Zagel then comments on Blakely:

It is the decision of Blakely v. Washington, 159 L. Ed. 2d 403, 124 S. Ct. 2531 (2004) and the subsequent opinion of our Court of Appeals in Booker that precipitated defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Booker held that Blakely invalidated much of the approach of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Booker, 375 F.3d 508, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 14223 at *6-8. With respect to this case, the holding requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt the facts which would justify the 16-level increase and do so before a jury (unless waived) with evidence that is admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. All this is in contrast to the Guideline sentencing which remits the determination of aggravating circumstances to the judge who may accept evidence that would be inadmissible at trial and need only find the circumstances proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Of course, Booker may not hold up, but it is binding upon me now, and I shall follow it. For the little or nothing this is worth, I agree with Booker.

In the end, Judge Zagel denies the motion to withdraw the plea because:

There is no claim that the prior conviction and sentence could not be conclusively proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

As the record now stands, what could have been lost here is only the chance that, out of mercy, a jury would have ignored overwhelming evidence and decided to ignore the truth. While the chance to pull the wool over a jury's eyes is inherent in the right to a jury trial, we deal here with a case in which the jury was validly waived on the question of guilt or innocence.

No Retroactivity

In Morris v. US, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17639 (C.D. Ill., 2004), US District Judge Jeanne E. Scott denied Morris’s motion to apply Blakely retroactively to Morris’s case on collateral review.


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