Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 29, 2004


Page 3


Blakely Does Not Apply to Consecutive Sentencing Decision, C.A. Rules


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial recent decision on trial by jury with regard to sentencing factors does not apply to the determination of whether a California defendant is subject to consecutive sentences, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Div. Five’s ruling that Jesse Lee Sykes was properly sentenced to consecutive terms for arson and on multiple counts of making terrorist threats came on the day the California Supreme Court agreed to hear a Tulare County case involving the same issue.

In the local case, the panel upheld Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronni B. MacLaren’s decision to impose consecutive terms on Sykes, who was convicted of arson, indecent exposure, stalking, three counts of making terrorist threats, and three counts of making annoying phone calls.

The arson, stalking, and terrorist threat offenses were all felonies. The judge sentenced Sykes, a third-strike offender, to 25 years to life on the arson charge but elected to treat the terrorist threats as second-strike offenses with determinate sentences running consecutive to the arson term.

The judge found that consecutive sentences were mandated by the Three Strikes Law because the offenses were “not committed on the same occasion, and not arising from the same set of operative facts.”

The arson charge arose from a fire at a federal halfway house that Sykes escaped from a few days earlier. An expert testified that the point of origin was the office of a treatment coordinator who had reported an incident, right before the escape, in which Sykes unzipped his pants and exposed himself

The terrorist threat and stalking charges were based on phone calls placed by Sykes to the treatment coordinator at her home, in which he said he was “not done with” her and was “coming to pay...a visit,” was “very pissed off” at having been reported, would not allow her “any peace until” the “truth” came out about the incident, and was “going to take [her] life.”

The therapist testified that as a result of the threats, and because she believed the defendant was following her and intended to hurt her, she left the state and did not return to Los Angeles until after Sykes was arrested. She received workers’ compensation benefits based on stress-related disability for a time, then went to work for another agency.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Blakely v. Washington, 2004 WL 1402697, the defense argued that the consecutive terms were invalid because the “not committed...not arising” finding that triggered them was not made by the jury.

Blakely held that a trial judge applying Washington state sentencing guidelines violated the defendant’s right to a jury trial by imposing an aggravated sentence based on facts that had neither been found by a jury nor admitted by the defendant.

But Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner, writing yesterday for Div. Five, said the Blakely rationale does not apply to the consecutive-sentencing determination under California law.

Turner noted that Blakely and the earlier decision on which it was based, Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466,  both involved sentencing on a single count. Because the factual findings underlying the decision to impose consecutive terms “can only be made once the accused has been found beyond a reasonable doubt to have committed two or more offenses,” Turner reasoned, the procedure fully protects the defendant’s due process and jury trial rights.

The court did, however, send the case back to the trial court for correction of sentencing errors unrelated to the Blakely issue.

In the Tulare County case, the high court agreed to hear the appeal of a man who received consecutive terms for molesting his stepdaughter and two other girls. The justices directed briefing on the applicability of Blakely to the imposition of an upper-term sentence based on aggravating factors, as well as to the imposition of consecutive terms.

That case, People v. Black, F042592, is the second in which the high court has directed counsel to brief issues related to Blakely. The justices last week accepted review in People v. Towne, B166312, which deals with the upper-term issue.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company