Thursday, March 15, 2012
Seeking early predictions on Southern Union (and Apprendi's future)
This coming Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on the biggest Apprendicase to come down the pike in a few years. SCOTUSblog has this effective new argument preview posted on the case, and here is how it begins:
On Monday, March 19, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Southern Union Co. v. United States, a case that could bring about profound changes in the way courts impose criminal fines, which serve as the principal sanction for organizations, including corporations. The Court will have to determine whether fines are subject to the principle announced in Apprendi v. New Jersey: “Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” To date, the Court has applied this principle only to the death penalty (Ring v. Arizona) and to sentencing schemes limiting years of incarceration a judge may impose in the absence of specific factual findings (Blakely v. Washington, United States v. Booker, Cunningham v. California, and Oregon v. Ice).
The issue arises in the context of an environmental criminal statute authorizing a prison term and a fine “per day” of violation. The jury was not asked to determine the number of violation days; it returned a general verdict of guilty. However, the court imposed a sentence based on the premise that the violation had occurred for more than one day. If the Supreme Court finds that the trial court engaged in judicial fact finding -- and if Apprendi applies to fines -- the sentence violates due process and the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial.
The decision in this case could turn on the Court’s assessment of the judicial role in imposing fines at the time of the Founders and whether fines -- the sanction for corporate “persons” -- are a fundamentally different punishment from incarceration. Considerations concerning the administration of justice may come into play. Finally, the opinion should clarify the significance of Oregon v. Ice, the Court’s most recent relevant precedent.
Another Southern Union preview can be found in this Greenwire piece, which includes this discussion of some underlying facts:
Seizing on the Apprendi ruling, Southern Union claims that only a jury can decide on the number of days the company was in violation of RCRA. Although a jury deliberated on the question of Southern Union's guilt, it was U.S. District Judge William Smith of the District of Rhode Island who imposed a total of $18 million in fines and fees based in part on how many days the mercury was illegally stored.
Under RCRA, the company faced a criminal penalty of up to $50,000 a day. The government had asserted in the indictment that the company was in violation for 762 days, meaning there was a maximum fine of $38.1 million.
Southern Union had opted to go to trial so it could argue that the mercury had not been abandoned and was therefore not a waste product. The company maintained it had stored the mercury carefully and that it would eventually be recycled. The mercury only became a problem when vandals broke into the facility and spilled some of the substance, which led to an expensive remediation process.
After considering the questions concerning the Apprendi ruling, Judge Smith imposed a $6 million fine and a $12 million community service fee. Smith concluded that the jury had found the company to be in violation for the entire period, which gave him the leeway to impose the penalty.
Southern Union had no luck when it appealed to the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In December 2010, the court -- going further than Smith -- held Apprendi didn't apply to financial penalties. It based its ruling in part on a 2009 Supreme Court ruling, Oregon v. Ice, in which the high court, again split 5-4, said that Apprendi was not intended to expand the jury's role beyond what it has done in the past.
Southern Union and its supporters -- which include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who filed a joint amicus brief -- say the appeals court is out of sync with other courts around the country that have concluded that criminal penalties are covered by Apprendi....
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the Obama administration, insisted in his brief that the Supreme Court made clear in the 2009 Iceruling that judges must consider the historical role of the jury in deciding how to draw a line between the role of judges and juries. "This court has long recognized that criminal fines, even significant ones, raise fundamentally different concerns from terms of incarceration or the death penalty," Verrilli said.
The former is a "deprivation of property," while the latter is a "deprivation of liberty or life," he said. Verrilli delved into English common law in making the case that judges traditionally had "more discretion with respect to fines than they did in imposing terms of imprisonment or death."...
Whatever the court rules, it is not likely to directly affect a large number of cases. There are 15 federal statutes that impose fines based on the number of days of a violation, although a number of them concern violations of environmental regulations, including Clean Water Act permitting. "It's a narrow category of cases," said criminal law expert Ryan Scott, an associate professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law....
Supreme Court watchers are unsure how the court will rule, in large part because there are four serving justices who were not on the court when Apprendiwas decided and two -- Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- have been appointed since Ice was decided. As Scott put it, it is an "unusually difficult one to guess."
I share Professor Scott's view that predicting an outcome, or even the votes of particular justices, in Southern Union is unusually difficult. I can make a plausible prediction that Southern Union could possibly win 9-0 because I doubt that the Court's still-remaining Apprendi dissenters (Justices Breyer and Kennedy) will be distinctly eager to prevent Apprendi's extension into this arena. And yet, in Ice, a one-time (though fickle) Apprendi supporter, Justice Ginsburg, wrote a broad opinion for the Court limiting Apprendi's reach and suggesting that she (as well as Justice Alito, who was another key swing vote in Ice) may be increasingly concerning about what could happen if Apprendi rights were extended into new sentencing settings. If Justice Ginsburg remains very concerned about the expanding the borders of Apprendi-land, I could imagine her (perhaps with the help of the Apprendi-haters) seeking to persuade some of the new Justices to draw another line in the jurisprudential sand here.
As my post title suggests, I am very eager to hear from readers concerning their perspectives on the Southern Union case in particular and on Apprendi jurisprudence more generally now that it is a full dozen years since the Sixth Amendment started playing a big role in sentencing law and policy.
Some recent related posts:
- SCOTUS to decide whether Apprendi applies to criminal fines via Southern Union
- Sixth and Eighth Amendment cases as notable amuse-bouche for SCOTUS health care litigation
- Top-side brief in Southern Union explains why Sixth Amendment Apprendi rule applies to fines
- How might newer Justices take on Apprendi jurisprudence in Southern Union?
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Top-side brief in Southern Union explains why Sixth Amendment Apprendi rule applies to fines
All Apprendi/Blakely fans (and, for that matter, all Apprendi/Blakely haters) will want to check out this SCOTUS merits brief from the petitioner in Southern Union v. US, which was filed last week. Here is the start of the brief's statement of the case
This case raises the question whether the principle that this Court recognized and applied to sentences of incarceration in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and its progeny, applies equally to the imposition of criminal fines. At the outset, the Court might wonder what the argument could be that the Apprendi principle does not apply to criminal fines, given that this Court’s explicit holding in Apprendi was that any fact that increases the “penalty” for a crime must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and criminal fines are unquestionably “penalties.” Indeed, prior to the decision below, federal and state courts uniformly held (or assumed) that Apprendi applies to the imposition of criminal fines. Even the United States agreed that the Apprendi principle applies to fines.
The decision below is the first to hold otherwise. It did so based on the court of appeals’ view that this Court’s opinion in Oregon v. Ice, 555 U.S. 160 (2009), announced a whole new methodology that fundamentally narrowed the Apprendi doctrine and also suggested that a court can use non-jury fact-finding to impose a fine that exceeds the maximum fine set by the legislature, which is what happened in this case. As shown below, this reading of Ice, a case which did not involve a criminal fine, is fundamentally flawed and ignores the fact that Ice was an exceedingly narrow ruling. In particular, the court of appeals’ historical understanding was at a minimum incomplete, and in all events did not support its conclusion that fines are outside the scope of Apprendi.
This Court should reverse the court of appeals’ holding because it would deprive criminal defendants of their fundamental jury trial rights in cases involving fines, and should vacate the fine imposed in this case (which was 360 times greater than that authorized by the jury’s verdict).
Many hard-core Apprendi/Blakely fans were justifiably puzzled by Ice, and this new case presents the Court with its first opportunity to explain if and how Ice was meant to recast the Apprendi/Blakely Sixth Amendment rules. Also, Southern Union will present the first crisp opportunity for the two newest Justices to indicate how they view Apprendi/Blakely Sixth Amendment rules, which could of course have profound long-term implications for all sorts of punishments beyond fines.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
More than a decade later, has Justice Breyer finally accepted Apprendi?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by the latest great Sidebar piece in the New York Times by Adam Liptak. The piece is headlined "When Perpetual Dissent Removes the Blindfold," and this portion of the piece prompts the question I pose here:
Once an issue is decided, it is the law, and a justice on the losing side the first time around is obligated to follow the decision except in extraordinary circumstances. Yet the opposite approach is common. Whether as a matter of principle, pique or personal privilege, justices often assume that an initial dissent permits them to stick to their positions indefinitely, or at least for a long time.
In 2002 [in Harris], for instance, Justice Stephen G. Breyer acknowledged that the logic of a decision from which he had dissented two years before, Apprendi v. New Jersey, required juries, not judges, to determine the facts supporting some mandatory sentences. But, Justice Breyer wrote, “I cannot yet accept” the earlier decision.
By last year, Justice Breyer’s position seemed to be softening. “Well, at some point I guess I have to accept Apprendi, because it’s the law and has been for some time,” he said at an argument [in O'Brien].
On Sept. 26, the justices will decide which of the thousands of appeals that have piled up over the summer are worth their time. Among them is yet another case on the issue Justice Breyer was discussing.
It involves Jennifer Lynn Krieger, who pleaded guilty to giving a pain-medicine skin patch to a friend. The friend, Jennifer Ann Curry of West Frankfort, Ill., died after chewing the patch and taking an assortment of other drugs. The average sentence for a first-time offender who admits to distributing drugs like the one in the patch is seven months. The mandatory minimum sentence when “death results,” though, is 20 years.
Ms. Krieger was not charged with causing her friend’s death. She denied doing so, and no jury ever addressed that question. But Judge J. Phil Gilbert of the Federal District Court in Benton, Ill., looked at the evidence on this point in connection with sentencing Ms. Krieger and found it more likely than not that Ms. Curry’s death had been caused by the patch.
Judge Gilbert went on to say that he would have ruled differently had the government been required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the patch had caused Ms. Curry’s death. Reasonable doubt is, of course, the standard that juries are instructed to use in criminal trials.
Judge Gilbert did not seem happy about where all of this left him. He said he was required to impose the 20-year sentence even though it was “unduly harsh.”
“One cannot escape the conclusion that Krieger, while convicted of distribution” of drugs, he wrote, “is being sentenced for homicide.”
An appeals court upheld the decision even as it noted that the law in this area hangs by a “precariously thin” thread, partly because “Justice Breyer’s dedication to his position” in the 2002 case “may be waning.”
I have previously noted the remarkable Kreiger case in this post, and I would not be at all surprised if the Supreme Court takes up the case. And yet, as they did last year in the O'Brien case, the Justices could (and very well might) effectively dodge direct consideration of Apprendi and Harris and Blakely constitutional issues by ruling for the defendant on statutory interpretation grounds.
- A Harris test case?: Seventh Circuit affirms extraordinary sentencing factor enhancement
- Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?
- SCOTUS in O'Brien preserves (for now) McMillan precedent (to Justice Stevens' chagrin)
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Effective discussion of Apprendi's application to corporate fines
Thanks to this post at White Collar CrimProf Blog, I see that a District Court in California has issued an interesting and effective opinion in United States v. Au Optronics Corporation, No. C 09-00110 SI (N.D. Cal. July 18, 2011) (available here), concerning tha application of Apprendi to corporate fines. Here are snippets from the ruling:
In light of the fact that the maximum fine in this case will depend upon proof of the gain or loss caused by the conspiracy, the government seeks two related orders from the Court. First, claiming that evidence of the effects of the alleged antitrust conspiracy is irrelevant to the defendants’ guilt, the government requests that the Court bifurcate the trial into a guilt phase and a penalty phase. Second, claiming that criminal fines are exempt from the Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), the government seeks an order that the evidence presented in the penalty phase need not be presented to a jury....
Until recently, there would have been little reason to doubt Apprendi’s applicability to fines. Two circuits had applied Apprendi’s holding to criminal fines....[But] last year the First Circuit held that criminal fines were exempt from Apprendi’s rule [based on dicta in the Supreme Court's Ice decision]....
The government argues that this Court should follow the First Circuit. Relying largely on the same reasoning as the First Circuit, it contends that under historical practices fines fell within the sole discretion of the trial judge.... The government argues that this historical practice renders Apprendi inapplicable to the fines in this case.
The Court is unconvinced. As an initial matter, the Supreme Court’s statement in Ice is dicta, made without the benefit of briefing or argument in a case whose facts do not remotely resemble the facts of this case. While, of course, Supreme Court dicta is compelling, losing sight of Apprendi’s mandate based upon one clause in Ice risks losing the forest for the trees.....
The fine in this case is the primary form of punishment the government seeks and could amount to as much as $1 billion, ten times more than the fine authorized by the Sherman Act. The magnitude and primacy of such punishment puts it in a separate class from an ordinary criminal fine imposed against a defendant who faces incarceration. In the Court’s view, this is reason enough to apply Apprendi’s mandate and require a jury to find the amount of gain or loss under the alternative fines statute.
The historical practices the government has cited simply do not seem well suited for the situation before the Court, where incarceration -- or whippings, for that matter -- is not a penalty the Court can impose. The Sherman Act authorizes a maximum fine of $100 million. Should the government wish to go beyond that act’s authorization and seek a significantly larger fine based upon the establishment of additional facts, it must do so by following Apprendi’s mandate, and by proving those facts to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
New Mexico Supreme Court rejects Apprendi/Blakely challenge to judicial findings for enhanced juve sentencing
As detailed in this brief local AP article, the New Mexico Supreme Court "has ruled it's constitutional for a judge to determine whether juvenile offenders can be sentenced as adults for certain violent crimes." Here are the basics:
The justices issued a 4-1 ruling on Tuesday overturning a 2009 decision by the state Court of Appeals, which held that a jury rather than a judge should make the sentencing decision. Justice Edward Chavez dissented, saying juvenile offenders are entitled to the same constitutional jury protections given to adults.
At issue is a sentencing procedure for "youthful offenders" --- those 14 to 18 years old found guilty of violent felonies, including second-degree murder and robbery. Judges can impose adult sentences only if they determine an offender is not amenable to treatment in the juvenile justice system.
I have not yet been able to find a copy of this ruling on-line, but I will post it when I do. Depending on the particulars, this case might serve as an interesting vehicle for taking a long-simmering, and quite interesting, post-Apprendi-Blakely issue up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
UPDATE: The full opinion from the NM Supreme Court is now available at this link.
Friday, September 03, 2010
"Of Rebels, Rogues and Roustabouts: The Jury's Second Coming"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece from Professor Jenny Carroll now appearing on SSRN. As its abstract reveals, this paper would be a timely read for anyone eager to think about the labors of juries during this Labor Day weekend:
This article examines the role of the jury in a post-Apprendi justice system. Apprendi and its progeny recognize the vital role the jury plays in establishing the legitimacy of criminal convictions and sentences. I contend that the Apprendi line confirms the jury’s responsibility, as representatives of the community, to give the law meaning in their determination of criminal culpability. In this, Apprendi seeks to restore the original role of the jury as the bridge between the law itself and the community the law seeks to regulate.
This restoration is incomplete, and the jury’s true significance cannot be realized, without a recognition of the jury’s original right to judge law as well as fact. Only through the revitalization of this power to nullify can the jury assume its intended role and provide community sanction to the designation of criminal culpability. I conclude that democracy, and indeed the underlying goals of the criminal justice system, are best served when criminal processes allow forums for dissenting perspectives and juries are allowed to assess both the legal and factual bases of guilt.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
"Civil, Criminal, or Mary Jane: Stigma, Legislative Labels, and the Civil Case at the Heart of Criminal Procedure"The title of this post is the title of this new piece on SSRN by Professor W. David Ball. David always has interesting stuff to say about the Supreme Court's Apprendi jurisprudence, and the abstract to this article spotlights this fact:
In criminal cases, any fact which increases the maximum punishment must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This rule, which comes from Apprendi v. New Jersey, looks to what facts do, not what they are called; in Justice Scalia’s memorable turn of phrase, it applies whether the legislature has labeled operant facts “elements, enhancements, or Mary Jane.” Civil statutes, however, can deprive an individual of her liberty on identical facts without needing to meet the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof. If Apprendi is, indeed, functional, why is it limited to formally criminal cases? Why does it not apply to all punishments, no matter whether they are called civil, criminal, or Mary Jane?
One often-proposed answer is that Apprendi derives its holding exclusively from the Sixth Amendment, and the Sixth Amendment applies only to “criminal prosecutions.” Apprendi is not, however, just a Sixth Amendment case. Its “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement comes from due process -- specifically, from a formally civil case, In re Winship, which explicitly rejects the idea that civil labels can insulate a state from heightened procedural obligations. Apprendi’s application cannot, therefore, be limited on formal grounds to criminal cases. To determine the limits of its application, one must instead return to the interests that both Winship and Apprendi identify as worthy of protection: the imposition of stigma and the deprivation of liberty.
This Article examines the due process roots of the Apprendi line and proposes that stigma is the substantive concern that separates retribution from regulation, punishment from public safety. Using sociology’s modified labeling theory, I provide a substantive definition of stigma and explore how a unified due process approach, with stigma at its heart, might provide a more meaningful way to separate punishment from risk management. This approach would move judicial discourse away from empty, taxonomic arguments about legislative labels towards an examination of the effects laws have on the lives of those subjected to them, a conversation which would more accurately and comprehensively address the values and interests at the heart of the justice system.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Notable statutory interpretation embrace of a basic offense/offender distinction for elements and sentencing factorsAs long-time readers or hard-core sentencing fans may know, when I was first trying to make sense of Blakely, I was drawn to distinguishing between offense conduct and offender characteristics in the application of Apprendi's "bright-line rule." I first developed this idea in my Conceptualizing Blakely article, advanced it in a StanfordLaw Review article, and further unpacked it (with Stephanos Bibas) in Making Sentencing Sensible article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. As explained in Conceptualizing Blakely, I believe an offense/offender distinction helps give conceptual content to the prior conviction exception, better links the Apprendi rule to the express text of the Constitution, and resonates with the distinctive institutional competencies of juries and judges.
As detailed in this post right after the Supreme Court's 2007 Sixth Amendment ruling in Cunningham v. California, Justice Kennedy's dissenting opinion in Cunningham praised an offense/offender distinction as providing a "principled rationale" for the application of the Apprendi rule: "The Court could distinguish between sentencing enhancements based on the nature of the offense, where the Apprendi principle would apply, and sentencing enhancements based on the nature of the offender, where it would not." But Justice Kennedy was writing in dissent and footnote 14 of Justice Ginsburg's majority opinion in Cunningham asserts that "Apprendi itself ... leaves no room for the bifurcated approach Justice Kennedy proposes."
Against this backdrop, I found especially interesting and notable this passage from the Court's opinion today in O'Brien (which just happens to be authored by Justice Kennedy):
Sentencing factors traditionally involve characteristics of the offender — such as recidivism, cooperation with law enforcement, or acceptance of responsibility. [Castillo, 530 U.S.] at 126. Characteristics of the offense itself are traditionally treated as elements, and the use of a machinegun under §924(c) lies “closest to the heart of the crime at issue.” Id., at 127.
As the cites reveal, the Supreme Court made a somewhat similar set of statements a decade ago in its Castillo ruling. But this O'Brien articulation of an offense/offender distinction for statutory interpretation purposes seems especially crisp and clean here. Perhaps in the future Justice Kennedy might be able to get a few of the new Justices to give this distinction constitutional significance in some future elaborations of the Apprendi/Blakely line of decisions.
SCOTUS in O'Brien preserves (for now) McMillan precedent (to Justice Stevens' chagrin)Based on a quick review of all of today's SCOTUS action, the biggest news for hard-core sentencing fans seems to be the continued preservation of the McMillan/Harris mandatory minimum "exception" to Apprendi/Blakely Sixth Amendment rule by virtue of the Supreme Court's decision to decide the O'Brien case for the defendants on statutory grounds. Justice Stevens, in what may serve as his last word on the Apprendi/Blakely Sixth Amendment jurisprudence make this final statement at the end of his notable separate (and solo) concurrence:
In my view, the simplest, and most correct, solution to the case before us would be to recognize that any fact mandating the imposition of a sentence more severe than a judge would otherwise have discretion to impose should be treated as an element of the offense. The unanimity of our decision today does not imply that McMillan is safe from a direct challenge to its foundation.
But the fact that nobody signed on to retiring Justice Stevens' separate opinion in the O'Brien case may, in fact, imply that McMillan is going to remain safeguarded from a direct challenge to its foundation for perhaps a long time.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Texas jury returns life sentence based on unconvicted and uncharged conductA helpful reader forwarded to me this fascinating local sentencing story out of Texas. The report is headlined "Prieto gets life in prison for beating," and here are the details:
Enrique Prieto could have walked out the courthouse door a free man, but instead he is going to prison for life. A Lubbock County jury sentenced Prieto, 41, to life in prison for robbing and beating an elderly man in September 2008.
Prieto on Monday pleaded guilty to the aggravated robbery of then-71-year-old Danny Moore, who he beat with a saw and pipe before taking his wallet and truck. "With a life sentence and maximum fine, justice was served to this defendant for what he did in this case," prosecutor Jaret Greaser said....
Prieto was eligible for probation because he had never been convicted of a felony, but he did have multiple felony charges pending against him.
Prosecutors spent three days essentially trying to prove those charges to jurors in hopes they would levy the maximum penalty for the aggravated robbery. Jurors heard evidence that Prieto burglarized another home while out on bond.
Perhaps the nail in Prieto's coffin was the testimony from one of his daughters, who said he raped her from the time she was 6 or 7 years old until she was 13 years old.
Prieto's wife testified the girl's story was improbable because she would have known if Prieto was abusing their daughter, but a sexual assault nurse said the girl had penetrating injuries consistent with a history of long-term abuse.
Prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments to focus on all the charges against Prieto. "This case is so much more than just that aggravated robbery," assistant district attorney Mandi Say said....
The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour before returning the life sentence.
This little story has so many interesting elements, I could imagine structuring an entire seminar focused on the question about whether this case vindicates or eviscerates the constitutional principles developed in Apprendi and Blakely.
If we think the most important constitutional principles of Apprendi and Blakely concern ensuring that a jury of peers, rather than just an "elite" judge, be involved in determining sentencing outcomes, then one might conclude that these Sixth Amendment interests were vindicated in this case. But I tend to read Blakely and especially Apprendi as expressing concerns about sentences being increased based on facts not found by traditional due process standards.
I suspect that at least some members of the Apprendi and Blakely majorities would be troubled by how Prieto got a life sentence. Moreover, I suspect even some members of the Apprendi and Blakely dissents might be a bit worried as to whether Fifth Amendment due process interests were fully served here (especially if Prieto did not get advance notice that his sentencing on the aggravated robbery conviction was going to be a essentially a trial and sentencing on his daughter's allegations of rape). And, of course, three members (and soon to be four) members of the current Supreme Court were not Justices at the time of Apprendi and Blakely and thus we can only speculate about what they may think about how Prieto got a life sentence here.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Lengthy split Seventh Circuit panel ruling on ACCA and juve predicatesA split Seventh Circuit panel has an interesting (and quite lengthy) discussion of proper application of the Armed Career Criminal Act and of use of juvenile prior to trigger ACCA's increased sentenced. The majority opinion in Welch v. US, No. 08-3108 (7th Cir. May 4, 2010) (available here), gets started this way:
In 2005, Devin Welch pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. He then brought a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence. The district court denied the § 2255 motion in pertinent part. We granted a certificate of appealability to address two of Mr. Welch’s contentions. First, he submits that his prior conviction for the Illinois crime of aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer cannot qualify as a “violent felony” within the meaning of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). Second, he submits that his prior juvenile adjudication cannot be used to enhance his sentence beyond the statutory maximum because it was not obtained by a jury trial. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
A forceful dissent authored by Judge Posner assails the majority's conclusions on both grounds, and it includes an especially interesting discussion of Apprendi prior conviction issues. Here is how that discussion concludes:
Of particular relevance to Apprendi, the literature finds that judges are more likely to convict in juvenile cases than juries are. They are exposed to inadmissible evidence; they hear the same stories from defendants over and over again, leading them to treat defendants’ testimony with skepticism; they become chummy with the police and apply a lower standard of scrutiny to the testimony of officers whom they have come to trust; and they make their decisions alone rather than as a group and so their decisions lack the benefits of group deliberation. It would be hasty to conclude that juvenile court judges are more prone to convict the innocent than juries are. But if it is true that juvenile defendants fare worse before judges than they would before juries — if there is reason to think that trial by jury would alter the outcomes in a nontrivial proportion of juvenile cases — one cannot fob off the Apprendi argument with the observation that a jury makes no difference.
Only the Supreme Court can decide authoritatively what its decisions mean. But the government’s inability to give a reasoned basis for that position is telling, and the better view, I believe, is that a juvenile court “conviction” is not usable for enhancing a federal sentence.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Is anyone still preserving Apprendi/Blakely challenges to judge-determined restitution awards?
Thanks to the Supreme Court deciding only civil cases this week, I have finally found time to read the argument transcript from last week's SCOTUS oral argument in Dolan v. US (which is available at this link). There are lots of interested aspect of the Dolan transcript ranging from frequent discussion of what is a final sentence to the potential impact of the 3553(a)'s requirement that district judges consider the need for restitution.
But one particular line from the start of one of Justice Scalia's questions to the Government prompts my question in the title of this post. Specifically, on page 31 of the Dolan transcript, Justice Scalia starts a line of questioning by saying "I think it's bad enough to have the issue of whether this victim suffered $100,000 damages decided by the judge...." In addition, on pages 51-52 of the Dolan transcript Justice Scalia suggest with another line of questions that he is troubled by the fact that "it's the judge who finds that the victim suffered so much money" and that the judge does not use a beyond a reasonable doubt standard when making this finding.
In other words, it appears that Justice Scalia remains quite concerned that the constitutional requirements imposed on sentencing determinations in Apprendi and Blakely are not being applied with respect to the fact-finding involved in the setting of criminal restitution awards. Thus, despite the fact that every circuit has rejected arguments to apply Apprendi and Blakely to restitution awards, there is at least one Justice (and perhaps there are more) who might be eager to give some new life to these kinds of claims.
I fear that few defendants even try to preserve Apprendi/Blakelychallenges to judge-determined restitution awards since these claims never got any real traction in lower courts after Blakely. But the Dolan transcript suggests that perhaps these claims ought still be preserved and pressed all the way up to the Justices.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Questionable(?) DC Circuit ruling on safety-valve burden of proof
The DC Circuit has a very intriguing little opinion this morning in US v. Gales, No. 08-3040 (DC Cir. Apr. 23, 2010) (available here), concerning burdens of proof and eligibility for statutory safety valve relief from an applicable mandatory minimum sentencing term. At issue in Gales is whether the defendant satisfied the safety valve requirement to truthfully provide all information about his offense: the defendant claimed he did, prosecutors claimed he did not. After saying it was not clear error for the district court to not believe the defendant, the DC Circuit has to respond to these claim by the defendant about the applicable burdens of proof:
Gales contends that the district court “misunderstood and misapplied” the burden of proof under the safety valve provision, claiming that after the government expressed its doubts to the district court about Gales’ story concerning his drug supplier, the district court shifted the burden of proof to Gales to prove that he had not lied. Gales argues that such an “impossibly high burden” is not imposed by the law. Instead he claims that once he made a credible showing that his story was truthful and complete, it was the government’s burden to present evidence showing otherwise....
Gales [further] contends that when the district court stated that the way the safety valve works is for Gales to give the government “the answer they want,” the court was giving the government the same discretion it has pursuant to the Sentencing Guidelines’ substantial assistance provision, U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1. That is, the district court was allowing the government to prevent him from receiving relief under the safety valve. According to Gales, this was not Congress’ intent.
Relying on the Circuit's (pre-Blakely) precedent, the panel in Galesrejects the contention that there is any problem with placing the burden on the defendant to establish "his story was truthful and complete." In other words, the defendant here gets subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum especially because he could not satisfy his burden of proving that "his story was truthful and complete."
As my quick reference to Blakely above is meant to suggest, there could be possible constitutional arguement (based in the Fifth Amendment more than the Sixth Amendment) against an interpretation of a statutory scheme that functionally increases the defendant's sentence because he fails to prove his admissions of guilt were truthful and complete. More fundamentally, I think constitutional doubt and rule of lenity statutory construction principles suggest, at least to me, that the proof burden should be on the government in this kind of setting.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Oral argument transcript finally available for in O'Brien/Burgess case
I am pleased to finally be able to report that the Supreme Court now has posted here the transcript for Tuesday morning's oral argument in United States v. O'Brien and Burgess, the combined cases concerning the application of the machine-gun mandatory minimum sentencing enhancement of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). I have heard from multiple source that Blakely fans will want to give this a close read, and that's my plan as I jump on a plane this afternoon to head to Miami (more on that later). I hope to have comments on the argument in a future post, but I hope readers do not wait for me to opine on this argument's merits (or demerits).
Some recent related posts:
- Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?
- Might Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?
- Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be questioned in O'Brien/Burgess argument?
Friday, February 19, 2010
"Deciding When To Decide: How Appellate Procedure Distributes the Costs of Legal Change"The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece from Professor Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl that should be of extra interest to Blakely and Booker fans, as evidenced by this abstract:
Legal change is a fact of life. The need to deal with legal change has spawned a number of complicated bodies of doctrine. Some of these issues have been studied extensively, such as doctrines concerning the retroactivity of new law and the question whether inferior courts can anticipatorily overrule a moribund superior court precedent. How such questions are answered affects the size and the distribution of the costs of legal change. Less appreciated is the way that heretofore almost invisible matters of appellate procedure and case handling also allocate the costs of legal transitions. In particular, this Article focuses on lower courts’ discretionary decisions about when to decide the cases that come before them: should lower courts continue to decide cases in the regular course even when a change in law is in the offing, or should they delay adjudication until after the dust has settled?
The Article has both positive and normative aspects. It begins by drawing together several bodies of doctrine in order to present a unified account of what we can call our system’s law of legal change. The Article then presents a case study of the six-month interval between Blakely v. Washington, which invalidated a state sentencing scheme and cast substantial doubt on federal sentencing guidelines, and United States v. Booker, which then held Blakely applicable to the federal system. A majority of the appellate courts that addressed the question upheld the federal guidelines during this transitional interval. Beneath the surface, however, the various courts upholding the guidelines managed cases very differently. Some circuits bore much of the cost of legal change themselves, while others shifted some of the cost to litigants and other courts.
Based on the insights gleaned from this episode, I suggest a framework for evaluating and perhaps improving how courts process cases during transitional periods. Case-management decisions are highly context-specific, which makes it difficult and perhaps undesirable to formulate general rules, but we might be able to improve courts’ handling of such matters by altering the institutional environment and modifying incentives.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Brief Sixth Circuit opinion rejects Blakely challenge to Michigan sentencing systemThis morning the Sixth Circuit issued a short opinion in Chontos v. Berguis, No. 08-1031 (6th Cir. Nov. 10, 2009) (available here), in which the panel concludes that Michigan's distinctive structured sentencing scheme does not have a Blakely problem. I have taken the liberty of reprinting some critical comments about this ruling from an e-mail sent my way by a helpful reader:
As detailed in this article appearing now as Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines by Any Other Name: When 'Indeterminate Structured Sentencing' Violates Blakely v. Washington, 57 Drake L. Rev. 643 (2009), the issue is a lot more complicated than the Sixth Circuit panel assumed today, and deserves a lot more attention. Michigan does not have an "indeterminate" sentencing scheme, at least not as the Supreme Court has used that term. Further, Harris does not save the Michigan scheme because Michigan's mandatory guidelines regularly raise the ceiling on judges' discretion, not just the floor. In short, Michigan's scheme doesn't deserve the free pass that the Sixth Circuit just handed out.
Monday, November 02, 2009
A potent pitch for potent jury power after ApprendiThis new article by Jenny Carroll available via SSRN, which is titled ""Of Rebels, Rogues and Roustabouts: The Jury's Second Coming," makes a robust pitch for giving juries even more power in a post-Apprendi world. Here is the article's abstract:
This article examines the role of the jury in a post-Apprendi justice system. Apprendi and its progeny recognize the vital role the jury plays in establishing the legitimacy of criminal convictions and sentences. I contend that the Apprendi line confirms the jury’s responsibility, as representatives of the community, to give the law meaning in their determination of criminal culpability. In this, Apprendi seeks to restore the original role of the jury as the bridge between the law itself and the community the law seeks to regulate. This restoration is incomplete, and the jury’s true significance cannot be realized, without a recognition of the jury’s original right to judge law as well as fact. Only through the revitalization of this power to nullify can the jury assume its intended role and provide community sanction to the designation of criminal culpability. I conclude that democracy, and indeed the underlying goals of the criminal justice system, are best served when criminal processes allow forums for dissenting perspectives and juries are allowed to assess both the legal and factual bases of guilt.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Are Apprendi and Blakely Justice Stevens' most favorite opinions?This morning's USA Today includes this lovely front-page articleby Joan Biskupic about Justice Stevens. The piece, which is headlined "Supreme Court's Stevens keeps cards close to robe; Long-serving justice, 89, a force behind the scenes," is a must-read for all SCOTUS fans. But sentencing fans might take particular note of this line reporting on what Justice Stevens' said during Biskupic's recent interview:
On opinions he finds noteworthy, he cited cases in which he crafted a narrow majority to enhance the role of juries in criminal sentencing.
Of course, the cases referenced here have to be his own 2000 Apprendi decision and the 2004 Blakely decision (which was authored by Justice Scalia, of course).
The fact that Justice Stevens would make special mention of Apprendi and Blakely in this recent interview leads me to two questions, one backward looking and one forward looking: (1) if Justice Stevens remains proud of his work in Apprendi andBlakely, just why did he end up providing the key fifth vote to limit the reach of this jurisprudence in last Term's Ice case?, and (2) in light of his apparent affinity for Apprendi and Blakely, might Justice Stevens work extra hard this Term (which likely will be his final Term) to reverse the Harris mandatory minimum exception to Apprendi?
Some related recent posts:
- Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?
- Might Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?
- Should the ALI and other academics actively urge SCOTUS to reverse Harris in O'Brien?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
"Debacle: How the Supreme Court Has Mangled American Sentencing Law And How It Might Yet Be Mended"The title of this post is the title of this new article on SSRN from Professor Frank Bowman. I consider everything Frank writes to be a must-read, but this 100-page magnum opus seems especially worthy of attention. Here is the abstract:
This Article argues that the line of Supreme Court Sixth Amendment jury right cases that began with McMillan v. Pennsylvania in 1986, crescendoed in Blakely v. Washington and United States v. Booker in 2004-2005, and continued in 2009 in cases such as Oregon v. Ice, has been a colossal judicial failure. First, the Court has failed to provide a logically coherent, constitutionally based answer to the fundamental question of what limits the Constitution places on the roles played by the institutional actors in the criminal justice system. It failed to recognize that defining, adjudicating and punishing crimes implicates both the Sixth Amendment jury clause and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process clauses, and it has twisted the jury clause into an insoluble logical knot. Second, the practical effect of the Court’s constitutional bungling has been to paralyze the generally beneficial structured sentencing movement, with the result that promising avenues toward improved substantive and procedural sentencing justice have been blocked. Even the most widely-applauded consequence of the Apprendi-Booker line, the transformation of the federal guidelines into an advisory system, proves on close inspection to be a decidely mixed blessing . The Court has made the Constitution not a guide, but an obstacle, to a desirable distribution of authority among the criminal justice system’s institutional actors. The Article provides a comprehensive constitutional analysis of all the opinions in the McMillan-Apprendi-Blakely-Booker-Ice line, as well as an assessment of the practical impact of these cases on both federal and state sentencing systems. In addition, the article uses its careful dissection of the defects in the Court’s Sixth Amendment sentencing decisions to develop an alternative constitutional analysis that combines Sixth Amendment and due process principles. Finally, the article suggests that the elevation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court may provide the occasion for the Court to rethink its sentencing cases and move toward a more intellectually coherent and practically desirable constitutional sentencing jurisprudence.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Is Blakely showing its age as it turns four?
Today marks the four-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's profoundly important constitutional ruling in Blakely v. Washington. Its jurisprudential godfather, Apprendi v. New Jersey, will turn eight on Thursday. Both merit re-reading as a fitting celebration of their birth and jurisprudential development.
Though my first post on the Blakely case, headlined "Blakely..... WOW!!", still captures my feelings about the ruling, the passage of time has me rethinking my assertion in this July 2004 Slate commentary that "Blakely is the biggest criminal justice decision not just of this past term, not just of this decade, not just of the Rehnquist Court, but perhaps in the history of the Supreme Court." (Notice that I included the term "perhaps," ever aware that I might later need to back-track from such an extreme assertion.)
Of course, the profound significance of Blakely on day-to-day criminal justice realities is still evident to anyone practicing in federal courts or in the dozens of other jurisdictions that have had their sentencing laws modified (or transmogrified) because of Blakely. Still, back in summer 2004, I really thought — perhaps hoped — that the Blakely Five, given the broad language and strong themes of the Blakely majority opinion, were prepared and eager to champion, through additional major constitutional rulings, the traditional adversarial procedures that Blakely extolled in a wide array of sentencing contexts.
Specifically, I expected the Blakely Five to take up quickly Sixth Amendment challenges to judicial fact-finding in diverse sentencing settings — e.g., revoking supervised release, ordering restitution. I also thought that the Blakely Five might be eager to reconsider the prior-conviction and mandatory minimum exceptions to the Apprendi principle. In 2004, I also believed that the Fifth Amendment holding and due process principles implicit in Blakely might find broad expression in all various sentencing settings (and I certainly did not expect to be still fighting uphill battles in lower courts against sentencing enhancements based on acquitted conduct).
Four years later, however, as lower courts continue to cabin the reach and impact of Blakely (as highlighted by a Tennessee high court ruling just today), it is hard to notice any continuing aftershocks of the Blakely earthquake. One obviously explanation, of course, is that the Booker advisory remedy provided a relatively easy "out" for the federal system and others dealing with the constitution complications Blakely created for structured sentencing systems. But, perhaps even more significantly, the Justices' apparent disinclination in the last four years to consider Blakely-expanding claims made by defendants has sent a clear (and intended?) signal to lower courts that the Justices are generally disinclined to follow-up on Blakely in any dramatic way.