Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Alleyne v. United States : Facts that Increase Mandatory Minimum Sentences Must Be Submitted to Jury

Opinion by: Justice Thomas

The United States Supreme Court decided in Alleyne v. United States (June 2013) that any facts that would increase the mandatory minimum sentence of a crime must be submitted to the jury, overruling Harris v. United States (2002).

In Alleyne, Petitioner was charged, among other offenses, with using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. On the verdict, the jury did not indicate a finding that the firearm was “brandished,” which carries a minimum sentence of 7 years. However, the presentence report recommended a 7-year sentence based on the court’s assertion that it had found evidence supporting a finding of brandishing. The District Court relied on Harris, which held that judicial fact finding that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is permissible under the Sixth Amendment because facts can be a “sentencing factor” rather than an “element of the crime.”

In Apprendi, the court held that a fact is by definition an element of the offense and must be submitted to the jury if it increases the maximum punishment and that the Sixth Amendment requires all offense elements to be proven by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Apprendi’s definition of “element” includes, however, not only facts that increase the ceiling, but also those that increase the floor. Harris was a five-four decision that has long been criticized for its inconsistency with the constitutional rule in Apprendi. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that Harris could not be reconciled with Apprendi.

Therefore, facts that increase the mandatory minimum sentence are elements and must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.