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California's Sentencing to Be Reviewed by Court

THE NATION

February 22, 2006|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to California's system for sentencing criminals.

At issue is whether the state gives judges too much power in deciding a sentence.

In recent years, the high court has been closely divided on how sentences are imposed. For example, it struck down an Arizona law that gave judges the power to decide which murderers should get the death penalty. The court found that the jury should decide that question.

However, the court also upheld the federal sentencing guidelines that give judges the authority to choose the right sentence within a particular range. California law sets high and low limits for the sentence for certain crimes and allows a judge to decide the proper punishment.

Lawyers for a convicted child molester, John Cunningham, say that gives too much power to the judge. The court said it would hear the case of Cunningham vs. California in October.

-- David G. Savage

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