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Supreme Court Rejects Calif. Sentencing Law

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/01/22 20:17

The US Supreme Court handed down decisions in three cases Monday, including Cunningham v. California where the Court struck down as unconstitutional California sentencing rules that allow judges to exercise discretion to tack on additional years to prison sentences beyond that determined by a jury. The Court overturned a California Court of Appeal decision, holding that California's Determinate Sentencing Law allows judges to impose enhanced sentences based on a judge's, not the jury's, finding of facts and therefore violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution. Read the Court's opinion per Justice Ginsburg, along with a dissent from Justice Kennedy and a second dissent from Justice Alito.

In the consolidated cases of Jones v. Bock and Williams v. Overton, the Court rejected rules established by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as to when a prisoner can file a lawsuit contesting prison conditions under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA). According to the Court, the PLRA "requires prisoners to exhaust prison grievance procedures before filing suit," but Sixth Circuit rules concerning when a prisoner has exhausted other administrative procedures go too far:

The Sixth Circuit, along with some other lower courts, adopted several procedural rules designed to implement this exhaustion requirement and facilitate early judicial screening. These rules require a prisoner to allege and demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint, permit suit only against defendants who were identified by the prisoner in his grievance, and require courts to dismiss the entire action if the prisoner fails to satisfy the exhaustion requirement as to any single claim in his complaint. Other lower courts declined to adopt such rules. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict and now conclude that these rules are not required by the PLRA, and that crafting and imposing them exceeds the proper limits on the judicial role.


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