Alleyne v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: October 5, 2012
  • Case #: 11-9335
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 457 Fed.Appx. 348 (2011) (Unpublished)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether Harris v. United States, which held that the Constitution does not require facts which increase a mandatory minimum sentence to be determined by a jury, should be overruled.

A federal jury convicted Petitioner of robbery under the Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951) and of using or carrying a firearm during commission of a violent crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924. The jury specifically found that neither Petitioner nor his accomplice brandished the firearm during the commission of the crime, but at sentencing the district court found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Petitioner’s accomplice did brandish the firearm. That finding subjected Petitioner to a mandatory minimum sentence enhancement and increased his period of incarceration from 60 months to 84 months. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in an unpublished per curiam opinion.

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that facts which increase a crime’s penalty beyond the prescribed statutory maximum are essentially elements of the crime that must be “charged in an indictment, submitted to a jury, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” But in Harris v. United States, a sharply-divided Supreme Court held that factual findings that increase a defendant’s mandatory minimum sentence can be found by a judge, rather than a jury. The Harris court distinguished its decision from Apprendi by stating that there is a constitutional difference between increasing the minimum amount of incarceration a defendant could face and increasing the statutory maximum period of incarceration.

On appeal, Petitioner argues that Harris is incompatible with Apprendi, and its progeny because there is no logical distinction between increasing the sentencing “floor” and increasing its “ceiling” since, regardless of how it is phrased, the end result is that a defendant is incarcerated for longer than would be permitted, but for the trial court’s special finding at sentencing.

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