Attorneys Push Supreme Court to hear Murder Cases

The Supreme Court is considering looking at a judge's discretion to impose additional time in prison and if it violates a convict's constitutional rights.

In two major rulings, the court believes that a judge's authority to impose higher sentencing after trial violates a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, according to attorneys. One lawyer for a former police officer (charged with sexually abusing his sone) told Supreme Court Justices that the state's sentencing law is just one example. The officer, John Cunningham, should have been sentenced to a 12 year prison term after a jury convicted him.  However, the trial judge added an additional 4 years based on facts that were not considered by the jury, according to Cunningham's lawyer.  According to one attorney, California law provides up to three possible sentences and prescribes a middle option unless the judge finds a reason to increase or reduce prison time.  In Cunningham's case, the judge decided that the child's vulnerability and the father's abuse of trust justified the longest possible sentence.

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