Meaningless Guarantees: Comment on Mitchell E. McCloy's “Blind Justice: Virginia's Jury Sentencing Scheme and Impermissible Burdens on a Defendant's Right to a Jury Trial"
Washington and Lee Law Review
Despite the important role that jurors play in the American criminal justice system, jurors are often deprived of critical information that might help them make sense of the law their oaths require them to follow. Such information with regard to sentencing might include the unavailability of parole, geriatric release, sentencing guidelines, or other information that is relevant to determining a defendant's penalty. Withholding information from juries, particularly in sentencing, risks unjust and inequitable sentences. Keeping jurors in the dark perpetuates injustices and undermines public confidence and trust in the justice system.
Mitch McCloy's excellent Note provides a compelling illustration of this problem in jury sentencing in Virginia. Until very recently, when criminal defendants in Virginia exercised their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, they had been sentenced by that jury in a bifurcated trial system. Although the trial judge provides the jury with information about the statutory minimum and maximum sentences, Virginia law provides that juries are not allowed to receive any information about Virginia's sentencing guidelines. The jury may not offer recommendations about whether sentences should be suspended or run concurrently or consecutively. These sentencing practices led, unsurprisingly, to inequitable results: defendants who exercised their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial tended to receive far harsher sentences than defendants who waived that right and selected a bench trial. Mr. McCloy's Note thoroughly evaluates the statutory and constitutional dimensions of this problem. Mr. McCloy's Note is an exceptional piece of scholarship as well as a useful tool for academics, legislators, practitioners, and judges to understand the complexities of Virginia's sentencing scheme. It is a compelling demonstration of inequity in Virginia's criminal justice system that offers several practical solutions.
Part I of this Comment discusses Mr. McCloy's findings, analysis, and ultimate conclusions. Part II briefly explores two significant questions that arise from Mr. McCloy's Note: the consequences of recognizing rights without meaningful enforcement and the problem of jurors' preference for harsher sentences. This Comment concludes by offering some final thoughts on the necessary work to make our justice system live up to the promise of "Equal Justice Under Law."
Alexandra L. Klein, Meaningless Guarantees: Comment on Mitchell E. McCloy's “Blind Justice: Virginia's Jury Sentencing Scheme and Impermissible Burdens on a Defendant's Right to a Jury Trial,” 78 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 585 (2021).