Innocent? Ok, go to jail anyway...

By klaatu · Apr 1, 2008 · ·
  1. klaatu
    Judges can still punish acquitted defendants,1,6132087.story

    In refusing to consider a Wisconsin man's appeal, the Supreme Court says jurists can issue prison sentences even if the jury has cleared a defendant of certain crimes.

    Los Angeles Times
    April 1, 2008

    WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court declined Monday to reconsider a legal rule that might surprise most Americans: Judges can punish defendants for certain crimes even after a jury has acquitted them of those charges.

    In recent years, the justices have described the right to jury trial as one of the bedrock principles of American law. At the same time, they have been unwilling to say that a jury's not-guilty verdict on some charges means the defendant cannot be punished. Instead, the court has said judges may take into account "acquitted conduct" when they decide on a prison term.

    The case of Mark Hurn of Madison, Wis., provides a stark example of the rule.

    Hurn was given an additional 15 years in prison for possessing crack cocaine, even though a jury acquitted him of the charge. He was convicted of having powder cocaine in his house, a charge that would warrant between two and three years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.

    But he was sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison, as though he had been convicted on both counts.

    "This was an extraordinary increase," said Elizabeth Perkins, a lawyer in Madison who filed his appeal. "Allowing a sentencing judge to disregard the verdict of the jury is very disappointing."

    In 1997, the high court endorsed the acquitted conduct rule in a California case, but the justices did so in a brief, unsigned opinion. They agreed judges can decide on the sentence for a convicted criminal by "relying on the entire range of conduct" presented by prosecutors, not just the charges that resulted in guilty verdicts. In recent years, the rule has allowed judges to give defendants long prison terms even when a jury rejected key parts of the prosecution's case.

    In Hurn's case, the U.S. appeals court in Chicago agreed that his prison term was "based almost entirely on acquitted conduct." Nonetheless, the judges upheld his full sentence last year, citing the Supreme Court's earlier rulings.

    The case began in 2005 when police in Madison searched Hurn's home and found drugs. They seized 450 grams of crack cocaine, about 50 grams of powder cocaine and $38,000 in cash. Hurn admitted to being a drug dealer, but at his trial he testified the crack belonged to other people who lived in the house.

    A jury convicted him of possessing powder cocaine but acquitted him of the crack cocaine charges. Nonetheless, prosecutors said he should be punished for both the crack and powder cocaine offenses, and recommended a sentence of about 20 years in prison.

    U.S. District Judge John Shabazz agreed with the prosecutors and said there was good reason to think Hurn was guilty of the crack cocaine charges. He imposed a sentence of nearly 18 years.

    Lawyers for Hurn appealed to the Supreme Court last fall, arguing that federal prosecutors should not be permitted to "execute an end run around" the jury. They cited several recent rulings in which the justices described the right to a jury trial as one of the bedrock principles of American law.

    But on Monday, the justices turned down the appeal petition in Hurn vs. United States without comment.

    "This is very disappointing," said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who is an expert on sentencing. "They have dodged this for now, but eventually the Supreme Court will have to grapple with this again."


    Klaatu (hoping this is the LA Times' idea of an April Fool joke...)

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  1. AntiAimer
    Wow and to think, double jeopardy is illegal.
  2. RaverHippie
    On the bright side this could be the high priced defense attorney's worst nightmare. Think Devil's Advocate where they pick the least intelligent juries to get their guys off with a not guilty verdict...but I have big doubts of judges becoming bastions of sound reason.

    but whew...I thought that little paper of a constitution had some meaning left.
  3. bcubed
    What I'd like to know is, is the sentence within the range allowable for the actual conviction? I mean, if the powder crime allows a sentence of "not more than twenty (20) years," but typically a sentence of 2-3 is imposed, then it would seem to be within a judge's perogative to issue a harsh sentence.

    If, however, the sentence were in excess of the maximum for the convicted charge, that'd be an entirely different matter.

    I'm assuming that, had the jury acquited entirely, then no sentence would be possible.
  4. El Calico Loco
    So...if the DA accuses one of jaywalking and murder, one could get life in prison for jaywalking.

  5. klaatu
    Yes, it appears so. But only if found innocent of murder by a jury.

    Go figure.

  6. klaatu
    Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: How Judges Make You Do the Time Even If You Didn't Do the Crime

    The Huffington Post

    April 2, 2008

    In the layman's view of the criminal-justice system, defendants go to trial, are convicted or acquitted of certain charges, and if convicted, are sentenced for the offenses. But try to explain the reality of being sentenced for acquitted conduct, and you're likely to be met with stares of astonishment. "You mean you can go to trial, get acquitted and still go to the slammer for stuff the jury says wasn't proven?"

    Indeed, my friends, welcome to the wacky world of criminal sentencing.

    Not only have many defendants been sentenced for stuff the jury said they didn't do (or at least wasn't proven), but yesterday the Supreme Court refused to do anything about it. The cert denial came in the case of Mark Hurn of my hometown, Madison, Wis. Hurn ate 15 years extra years in prison for possessing crack cocaine, even though a jury acquitted him of the charge. It's true. Though he was convicted of having powder cocaine in his house, (for which he was looking at two or three years in prison), he was sentenced to almost 18 years. Why? Because even though the jury acquitted him of the crack charge, the judge kind of figured he'd done it and therefore found, by a preponderance of the evidence that he'd done it, and sent him to prison as if the jury had actually said "Guilty" rather than "Not Guilty."

    Strange? Yes. But sadly, also true.

    And while the high court's refusal to hear Hurn's appeal (notwithstanding reverse his sentence) yesterday was cowardly enough, with the fourth circuit's decision this afternoon in US v. Ibanga, we have finally landed in Wonderland. In the case (and no it's not a joke though I wish it were), the fourth circuit basically says that not only CAN you sentence on acquitted conduct, categorically refusing to consider it is actually error.

    What does that mean? It means that if you go to trial and blow, on even a single count, you run the risk of getting slammed for the entire indictment. Not only do ties go to the government, if they even score a run, they win. Anything other than a shut out is a loss for the defense. And that, in turn, makes it virtually impossible to win, but worse, it means that going to trial with a "I did this but not that" defense gets you only a pyrrhic victory. No longer can you reasonably contest a part of the government's case against you at a trial. Well, let me amend that, you can contest it, but it's unlikely to make a difference in how long you go to prison for even if you win.

    Your only option? Total victory or plea.

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    Interesting comments section on the original web site -

  7. finriswolf
    As insane as your example sounds, it still may be accurate.

    This is stunning to me. What has my country become?
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