Appeals court to hear cases in Oklahoma

Saturday, March 5th 2005, 11:38 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ It's not unusual for some members of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to conduct hearings in the six states within its jurisdiction, but a visit by all 12 judges is.

The justices will spend next week in Oklahoma hearing oral arguments in about 60 cases, including appeals on the constitutionality of prison sentences, the death penalty and business disputes.

``It's become very rare that the whole court goes outside of Denver,'' said Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha.

The appellate judges often travel for a single hearing to one of the six states that make up their circuit, but rarely do they hold an entire session in another state, Tacha said.

U.S. Circuit Judge Robert H. Henry, who served as Oklahoma's attorney general from 1987 to 1992, said one of the reasons for coming to the state is to educate law students and the public.

``The law schools here have requested for a long time for us to try to work them into the schedule,'' Henry said.

Hearings will be held at law schools at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University and the University of Tulsa.

``We wanted to make it accessible to students, lawyers and citizens who want to see how the last stop before the Supreme Court works,'' Henry said.

The 10th Circuit is an intermediate appellate court between federal trial courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Its jurisdiction includes Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and portions of Yellowstone National Park extending into Montana and Idaho.

The biggest session will likely be Monday at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

A full panel of 12 judges _ usually only a panel of three hears cases _ will consider arguments in two appeals out of New Mexico.

The criminal appeals on Monday challenge the constitutionality of federal sentencing guidelines.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled that guidelines allowing federal judges to add time to a defendant's sentence if they found an aggravating factor, such as use of a gun, violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Sergio Gonzalez-Huerta was convicted of illegally re-entering the United States after being convicted of a felony. He is asking that his sentence of four years and nine months be thrown out.

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