Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, September 13, 2007


Page 1


Responding to U.S. High Court Decision...

State Supreme Court Disposes of More Than 200 Sentence Appeals

Justices Agree to Hear Dispute Over Control of Episcopal Church Property




The California Supreme Court yesterday disposed of more than 200 cases that had been held pending resolution of issues related to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Cunningham v. California (2007) 127 S.Ct. 856.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, dismissed review in 156 cases and transferred 75 back to the Court of Appeal, retaining jurisdiction over more than 30 cases involving Cunningham-related issues.

In other conference action, the justices decided to wade into a dispute over ownership and control of church property following a schism within the Episcopal church.

Determinate Sentencing Law

Cunningham concluded that California’s determinate sentencing law violated the federal Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial in that it permitted a judge, rather than a jury, to determine the existence of aggravating circumstances essential to the imposition of an upper term sentence. 

The high court recently addressed and resolved a number of Cunningham issues in People v. Black (2007) 41 Cal.4th 799 and People v. Sandoval (2007) 41 Cal.4th 825.

Black held that jury findings are not required to impose consecutive terms, and that an upper-term sentence imposed without jury findings is valid if the aggravating factors include a prior conviction.

In Sandoval, the court said that in cases in which the upper term was imposed in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights, the sentence may be upheld if the violation was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and if there is reasonable doubt as to what sentence would have been imposed had the trial judge felt free to choose among the alternatives, the court has full discretion to impose the lower, middle, or upper term on remand.

 The cases in which the court dismissed review yesterday included 145 in which the Court of Appeal affirmed the defendant’s sentence and the result would be the same under the decision in Black, and 11 in which the Court of Appeal resolved a Cunningham issue against the defendant on grounds that are not affected by the decisions in Black and Sandoval, the Administrative Office of the Courts said in a statement.

None of those 11 involve issues that the court intends to address in any of its pending cases, the AOC said.

The 75 cases sent back to the Court of Appeal, the AOC said, are those in which the panel ordered that a defendant be resentenced in light of Cunningham or where resentencing appears to be required by Black of Sandoval, including those in which the trial court imposed an upper term sentence based on aggravating circumstances that did not include recidivism, and were not admitted by the defendant or found by the jury, the AOC explained.

The court continues to hold 22 cases in which the upper term is supported by aggravating circumstances related to probation, parole, or a prior prison term, pending the outcome of People v. Towne, S125677.

‘Prior Conviction’ Exception

Towne will address whether the “prior conviction” exception to the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial on aggravating circumstances applies to other recidivism-related factors.  The court also continues to hold 12 cases involving issues related to guilty or nolo contendere pleas and certain forfeiture issues that the court intends to address and resolve in People v. French, S148845, the AOC said.

In Episcopal Church Cases, G036096, decided June 25, the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. Three ruled that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and its Los Angeles Diocese are entitled to take charge of the property of St. James Parish in Newport Beach.

The parish membership voted to disaffiliate in 2004, deleting all references to the Episcopal Church from the articles of incorporation. It was one of a number of instances in which local churches have elected to go their separate ways in response to the election of a gay man as a bishop in New Hampshire and other liberalizing changes in the national church.

The Court of Appeal ruled that it could decide the case without violating the Establishment Clause by focusing on neutral legal principles. It further concluded that the parish is bound by the church’s canons, which provide that “[a]ll real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located.”

The high court voted unanimously to review the Court of Appeal’s decision.


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