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Blakely v. Washington

Case Name
Blakely v. Washington
542 U.S. 296
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Antonin Scalia
Judge(s) - Majority
John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas
Judge(s) - Dissent
William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
Washington Supreme Court
Decision Year


Defendant was charged with first-degree kidnapping for abducting his wife. The Defendant reached a plea agreement with the State and ultimately pled guilty to second-degree kidnapping involving domestic violence and use of a firearm. Under the second-degree kidnapping charge the defendant’s maximum sentence exposure was 53 months. The judge sentenced the Defendant to 90 months in prison. The judge asserted that such a sentence was justified because the Defendant acted with “deliberate cruelty” in his actions and that this finding was a statutorily enumerated ground for a sentencing departure. The judge made his determination after hearing the victim’s recount of the kidnapping. The Defendant appealed, arguing that his sentencing deprived him of his federal constitutional right to have a jury determine all facts legally essential to his sentence. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the rule expressed in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000) governed. Apprendi held that “other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty of a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Court also concluded that a Defendant may stipulate facts that expose him to a sentencing increase, which sometimes occurs in the plea bargaining context. However, the facts that the judge relied on here to sentence the Defendant above the maximum were neither admitted by the Defendant nor found by a jury. Thus, the Defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated.

Key Quote

“The Framers would not have thought it too much to demand that, before depriving a man of three more years of his liberty, the State should suffer the modest inconvenience of submitting its accusation to “the unanimous suffrage of twelve of his equals and neighbours,” 4 Blackstone, Commentaries, supra at 343, rather than a lone employee of the State.” p.314-317