Five opinions came down today from the United States Supreme Court. Read the summaries below and read the full text of the opinions at Justia’s U.S. Supreme Court Center.
Alleyne v. United States, United States Supreme Court (6/17/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Alleyne was convicted using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), which carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The sentences increases to a seven-year minimum if the firearm is brandished, 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and to a 10-year minimum if it is discharged, 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). The jury form indicated that Alleyne had “[u]sed or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” but not that the firearm was “[b]randished.” Alleyne objected to a sentencing report recommendation of a seven-year term, arguing that the jury did not find brandishing beyond a reasonable doubt and that raising his mandatory minimum sentence based on a judge’s finding of brandishing would violate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The district court overruled the objection. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, overruling Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 and applying Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466. Mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime and any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an “element” that must be submitted to the jury. Defining facts that increase a mandatory minimum as part of the substantive offense enables a defendant to predict the applicable penalty from the face of the indictment and preserves the jury’s role as intermediary between the state and criminal defendants. Because the fact of brandishing aggravates the prescribed range of allowable sentences, it constitutes an element of a separate, aggravated offense that must be found by the jury, regardless of what sentence the defendant might have received had a different range been applicable. The Court noted that its ruling does not mean that any fact that influences judicial discretion must be found by a jury.
Read more: Supreme Court says jury should have final say on facts that trigger mandatory minimums