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Parts of Ohio Felony Sentencing Scheme Held Unconstitutional Per U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

2004-1568, 2004-1771, 2005-0735, and 2005-2156. State v. Foster, 2006-Ohio-856.
Licking App. No. 03CA95, 2004-Ohio-4209, Cuyahoga App. No. 83720, 2004-Ohio-4485, Lake App. No. 2003-L-110, 2005-Ohio-1107, and Ottawa App. No. OT-03-016, 2005-Ohio-5257. Judgment reversed in No. 2004-1568 and cause remanded to the trial court. Judgment affirmed in No. 2004-1771 and cause remanded to the trial court. Judgment reversed in No. 2005-0735 and cause remanded to the trial court. Judgment affirmed in No. 2005-2156.
Moyer, C.J., Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Resnick, J., concurs in paragraph seven of the syllabus and in judgment.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-856.pdf

[NOTE : Today's decision in State v. Foster also decides the cases of State v. Quinones (2004-1771), State v. Adams (2005-0735) and State v. Horn (2005-2156), which were consolidated for decision by the Court because they raised closely related legal issues and arguments.]

(Feb. 27, 2006) In a case applying recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to Ohio's felony sentencing scheme, the Supreme Court of Ohio today held unanimously that portions of Ohio's criminal sentencing statute violate the U.S. Constitution by requiring judges to make findings not found by a jury or admitted by the defendant before imposing consecutive or maximum sentences, more than the minimum term on first time prison sentences, or additional sentences on repeat violent and major drug offenders.

In a June 2004 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Blakely v. Washington that a Washington state sentencing statute violated the constitutional right to jury trial of a criminal defendant, Ralph Blakely, by empowering the judge to make findings that justified imposing an enhanced or “exceptional” sentence. In Blakely's case, he was convicted by a jury of 2 nd degree kidnapping, a crime for which the standard sentencing range was 49 to 53 months in prison. However the trial judge ultimately sentenced him to an enhanced term of 90 months in prison based on the judge's independent finding that Blakely had acted with “deliberate cruelty” in the commission of his crime.

In a 2000 case, Apprendi v. New Jersey, the U.S. Supreme Court had previously held that a defendant's due process and jury trial rights were violated when a judge (rather than the jury) made factual findings that increased a defendant's sentence “to a penalty exceeding the statutory maximum” for the offense of which the defendant was convicted by a jury or admitted in a guilty plea. The majority opinion in Blakely expanded on Apprendi by holding that the “statutory maximum” sentence that cannot be exceeded based on a judicial finding is “the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court followed Blakely with United States v. Booker, which found portions of the federal sentencing guidelines to be unconstitutional. In that case, the offending sections were severed and the federal guidelines were converted to an advisory, rather than mandatory plan.

In today's decision, authored by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the prison sentences imposed on criminal defendants Andrew Foster of Licking County, Jason Quinones of Cuyahoga County and Robert Horn of Lake County were unconstitutional. Following Ohio's felony sentencing statutes, the sentencing judges had made the required findings of fact to increase the defendants' prison terms beyond a statutory maximum. Because these sentence-enhancing facts had not been proved by the state to a jury or had not been admitted by the defendants, the Court found that the offenders' sentences violated the requirements of Blakely and Apprendi.

Justice Lanzinger wrote that, in reviewing the various claims of the defendants in these cases, the Court found seven specific provisions within R.C. 2929 to be unconstitutional and therefore void and unenforceable. The offending provisions included:

While today's decision invalidates each of the above sentencing provisions, Justice Lanzinger noted that all other felony sentencing provisions of Ohio's complex plan remain in place to guide trial courts until such time as the General Assembly may adopt new legislation consistent with the requirements of Blakely and Apprendi . The basic schedule of prison terms set forth in R.C. 2929.14(A) for each category of felony offenses remains in place. In adopting the Booker remedy and severing the offending statutes, Justice Lanzinger explained that “(t)rial courts have full discretion to impose a prison sentence within the statutory range and are no longer required to make findings or give their reasons for imposing maximum, consecutive, or more than the minimum sentences.”

With regard to the cases of Foster, Quinones and Adams and hundreds of other prisoners who have appealed sentences on Blakely grounds, Justice Lanzinger wrote that “(t)hese cases and those pending on direct review must be remanded to trial courts for new sentencing hearings not inconsistent with this opinion. … Although new sentencing hearings will impose significant time and resource demands on the trial courts within the counties, causing disruption while cases are pending on appeal, we must follow the dictates of the United States Supreme Court. Ohio 's felony sentencing code must protect Sixth Amendment principles as they have been articulated.”

As trial courts conduct resentencing in affected cases, Justice Lanzinger noted, “the parties may stipulate to the sentencing court acting on the record before it. Courts shall consider those portions of the sentencing code that are unaffected by today's decision and impose any sentence within the appropriate

felony range. If an offender is sentenced to multiple prison terms, the court is not barred from requiring those terms to be served consecutively. While the defendants may argue for reductions in their sentences, nothing prevents the state from seeking greater penalties.”

Justice Lanzinger's opinion was joined by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O'Connor and Terrence O'Donnell. Justice Alice Robie Resnick concurred with the Court's judgment, and with paragraph seven of the opinion syllabus.

In State v. Foster
Theresa G. Haire, 614.466.5394, for Andrew Foster.

Kenneth Oswalt, 740.349.6195, for the State of Ohio and Licking County Prosecutor's Office.

In State v. Quinones
Michael T. Fisher, 440.617.1528, for Jason Quinones.

Lisa Reitz Williamson, 216.443.7730, for the State of Ohio and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.

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