skip to Main Content
Name: Cunningham v. California
Case #: May-51
Opinion Date: 01/22/2007
Citation: 549 U.S. 270

Opinion reversing defendant’s sentence under Blakely v. Washington (2004) 542 U.S. 296, abrogating People v. Black (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1238, and holding that all facts used to support an upper-term sentence are subject to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of a jury trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Cunningham reiterated “Apprendi’s bright-line rule” that “[e]xcept for a prior conviction, ‘any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.'” (Emphasis added.) California sentencing rules require that the midterm “shall” be imposed unless circumstances in aggravation or mitigation are found, so an upper term cannot be imposed without extra facts beyond those necessarily found by the jury’s verdict. (This differed from how Black characterized the California scheme.) As a result, the Blakely “prescribed statutory maximum” is the midterm – the “maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant” – so facts used to support a sentence above the midterm are subject to Apprendi. Cunningham held “that should [have been] the end of the matter,” but it went on to analyze each of Black’s rationales – and found they all violated “Apprendi’s ‘bright-line rule,'” calling it “remarkabl[e]” that Black said there was no bright-line rule. The remedy was left open: “As to the adjustment of California’s sentencing system in light of our decision, ‘the ball . . . lies in [California’s] court.'”