Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No Time Limit for Justice

Lemuel Prion pled guilty and mentally ill to three felonies in 1994. Just shy of two decades later, the Utah Supreme Court finds that the procedure for re-sentencing permitted for guilty but mentally ill offenders in 1994 violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. Justice Lee, as he is wont to do, provides a thorough analysis of the common law protections against re-sentencing individuals on the basis of information not presented at the initial sentencing hearing, ultimately finding that Utah's re-sentencing provisions applicable to guilty but mentall ill offenders impermissibly allow a district court to re-open a sentence that has already been imposed.

While the decision in Prion is unlikely to have broad application for criminal defense practitioners, the case provides a helpful discussion of rule 22(e) and the Double Jeopardy Clause. More specifically, the Court rejects the State's argument that Rule 22(e) does not apply in this instance, instead noting that "because an illegal sentence is treated as void, it may be raised at any time." Justice Lee further observes that the rule 22(e) motion in this case "is one that comes within the traditional bounds of the rule" because the rule has historically contemplated double jeopardy challenges. The Court in Prion is careful to observe the "narrowly circumscribed" construction of rule 22(e), but practitioners otherwise deterred by the time constraints imposed by the PCRA should nonetheless be mindful of the potential for relief provided by the rule.

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