Most people know that criminal laws come with guidelines that judges use when sentencing someone who’s been convicted of or pled guilty to a crime. These are in place to provide some type of uniformity so that people who have committed the same offense don’t face vastly different legal consequences.
Prosecutors will often ask a judge to hand down the maximum sentence possible for a defendant and make a case for why they deserve that sentence. The defense will typically argue that a sentence at the low end of the guidelines is more appropriate.
A judge can’t order a sentence that exceeds the maximum
Not so long ago, judges could decide that a defendant or their actions warranted a sentence greater than the maximum in the guidelines for their offense. That changed 20 years ago with a U.S. Supreme Court case called Blakely v. Washington. That’s where the term “Blakely motion” comes from.
In this case, the high court ruled that if a judge hands down a sentence that exceeds the maximum provided under the law for an offense, they’re violating a defendant’s right to a trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment. That’s because they’re violating the sentencing guidelines for the offense that the jury found the defendant guilty of. Prosecutors can’t ask a judge to exceed the sentencing guidelines. That’s where a Blakely motion comes in.
Why do prosecutors need a Blakely motion?
If prosecutors believe that aggravating factors warrant a longer sentence, they can ask the judge to grant this motion. This would put the question of sentencing before a jury – thus protecting the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. A jury can decide to hand down a sentence that exceeds the maximum.
The defense generally will contest this motion so that this can’t happen. If they believe, however, that a jury will be more sympathetic to the defendant than the judge and give them a shorter sentence, they may not contest it.
While most criminal cases are settled before going to trial, it’s important to know some of the things you may encounter if you do. The most critical step before even deciding how you’re going to respond to any criminal charge is to get experienced legal guidance.