U.S. Supreme Court Rules Facts Increasing Mandatory Minimum Must Be Decided by Juries – Alleyne v. United States

June 17, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that juries, not judges, must decide any facts that would increase the defendant’s maximum sentence. That’s because every defendant has the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. But two years later, the same court ruled there’s no right to a jury trial of a fact triggering a mandatory minimum sentence. That decision was overturned today with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Alleyne v. United States. Allen Alleyne was convicted of robbery. At Alleyne’s trial, the jury found that he had used a firearm in a crime of violence, but not that he had “brandished” it, which increased the mandatory minimum sentence. The judge applied the mandatory minimum for brandishing anyway, but the Supreme Court overturned this, ruling that Alleyne had a Sixth Amendment right to have this determined by a jury.

Alleyne and an accomplice robbed a store manager who was driving the day’s cash receipts to the bank. The accomplice wielded a gun as he approached the manager. After he was caught, Alleyne faced, among other charges, a charge of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. This charge carries at least five years, but the penalty is increased if the accused brandished or discharged the firearm. The jury found that he used the firearm, but not that he brandished it. The presentencing report from prosecutors recommended a seven-year sentence for the “brandishing” version of this charge, but Alleyne objected, citing the jury’s decision. The judge overruled him, citing an earlier Supreme Court decision that this case overturns. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself, finding that the earlier decision was inconsistent with a yet earlier decision, 2000’s Apprendi v. New Jersey, and the Sixth Amendment. The Constitution requires that each element of a crime be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Previous Supreme Court cases have ruled that “sentencing factors” are not elements of a crime that must be so proven, but the current Court agreed with Alleyne that these cases can’t be reconciled with the logic of Apprendi. That case held that a “fact” is an element of the offense. The majority in this case argued that facts that increase the floor as well as the ceiling of the sentence, because both kinds of fact can make a penalty harsher. The case being overturned, and the dissent in this case, argued that the higher sentence didn’t require a jury because it could have been imposed without a finding of brandishing, because the range of five years to life includes seven years. But the majority found this irrelevant to the analysis of what the Sixth Amendment requires.

This is a great decision for defendants facing serious criminal charges. A lot is at stake when defendants reach sentencing. The difference between five years in prison and seven years in prison is two years of the defendant’s life. The dissenters in this case glossed over this issue, but it doesn’t matter whether the two years are attached to the bottom of a sentencing range or the top—those two years are very important to the defendant and his or her loved ones. That’s why this case will be welcomed by anyone facing a mandatory minimum, which includes a lot of serious federal and state crimes involving drugs and narcotics, sex or violence.

Based in Miami, Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients across Florida who are facing serious criminal charges. Our attorneys answer the phone 24 hours a day and seven days a week, because we know police don’t stop working after business hours. For a free, confidential consultation, send us an email or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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