Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Page 1


U.S. Supreme Court’s Sentencing Decision No Bar to Consecutive Terms for Sex Crimes, C.A. Rules


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Washington state sentencing scheme does not affect California’s law allowing a judge to impose full-term consecutive sentences on defendants convicted of certain serious sex crimes, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.

“Contrary to the numerous contentions in the deluge of supplemental briefs now being filed in the California Appellate Courts, it is not at all clear that the United States Supreme Court opinion in Blakely v. Washington... has sounded the death knell for California sentencing laws,” Justice Kenneth Yegan wrote for Div. Six. “It remains to be seen whether the Determinate Sentencing Law has been bruised, battered, or born into a better world. Here we only conclude that Blakely does not impact a sentencing court’s imposition of a full consecutive sentence for an enumerated violent sex offense.”

The appellate panel affirmed Sylvester Vonner’s 12-year sentence on one count of forcible lewd conduct and one count of committing a lewd act on a child. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan S. Rosenfeld imposed two consecutive six-year terms after jurors, who deadlocked on a charge of forcible rape, convicted Vonner of having molested his 10-year-old granddaughter on two occasions three weeks apart.

Rosenfeld found that the two crimes were committed on different occasions, and ordered consecutive sentences under Penal Code Sec. 667.6(c). The statute permits full consecutive sentences for specified crimes “whether or not the crimes were committed during a single transaction.”

Yegan explained that because forcible lewd conduct is one of the enumerated crimes in Sec. 667.6, the trial judge was entitled to impose consecutive terms for all felonies, and it makes no difference whether the offenses were committed on the same or different occasions.

In Blakely, reported at 124 S.Ct. 2531, a defendant pled guilty to a crime and received a sentence under state guidelines that was based in part on facts that were neither admitted as part of the plea nor tried to a jury. The decision cited Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) 530 U.S. 466, in which the court held that a sentence could not be increased to more than the usual statutory maximum on the basis of a hate-crime allegation as to which the defendant was not afforded the right to a jury trial.

Vonner’s case is different, Yegan said, because there was no “judge-made factual determination” that increased the statutory maximum for his offenses.

The justice elaborated:

“Here the guilty verdicts subjected appellant to consecutive sentencing which the trial court was authorized to impose. The sentence was not based on any ‘fact’ that the trial court found.  The decision was based on the guilty verdicts and the statutory discretion given to the trial court by the Legislature.”

Vonner, he noted, could have been sentenced to as much as 16 years in prison—each of the two counts was punishable by three, six, or eight years—but the judge chose the midterm as to both counts.

The California Supreme Court currently has Blakely issues under review in two cases—People v. Towne, S125677, and People v. Black, S126182. Towne involves the judicial decision on whether there are sufficient aggravating circumstances to impose an upper term under the DSL; Black involves that issue, as well as a consecutive-sentencing question.

The case decided yesterday was argued by Deputy Attorney General Lawrence M. Daniels for the prosecution and by court-appointed attorney Mark D. Lenenberg for the defendant.

The case is People v. Vonner, B169476.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company