Cunningham v. California
Cunningham appealed his criminal sentence from the state of California as a violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law and his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. A jury convicted Cunningham of continuous sexual abuse of a child under age fourteen. California has three different prison terms for that crime. At sentencing, the judge found six aggravating factors, which led him to impose the longest prison term. In finding these aggravating factors, the judge considered documents including a probation report, psychological evaluations, and letters from the community.
Cunningham appealed his sentence to the California Court of Appeal as contrary to the holding of the United States Supreme Court case Blakely v. Washington, which requires judges to consider only facts that the jury found or that the defendant admitted. The California Court of Appeal upheld the sentence, holding that the judge merely imposed the maximum statutory penalty permitted for the crime. The California Court of Appeal later modified that holding, adding that resentencing was unnecessary because it was not reasonably probable that the trial court would have imposed a lesser sentence if the court had disregarded the improper factors. The California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Whether California's Determinate Sentencing Law, by permitting sentencing judges to impose enhanced sentences based on their determination of
facts not found by the jury or admitted by the defendant, violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.