Sunday, August 23, 2015

"From Jones to Jones: Fifteen Years of Incoherence in the Constitutional Law of Sentencing Factfinding"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now on SSRN authored by Benjamin Priester. Here is the abstract:

With tens of thousands of persons sentenced every year in the United States, the contemporary American criminal justice system places undeniable importance upon the constitutional constraints governing the scope of the permissible and impermissible exercises of factfinding authority by sentencing judges in the course of determining the specific punishment to be imposed upon an individual convicted of a criminal offense.  Yet for the past fifteen years the United States Supreme Court has failed to provide doctrinal stability and consistency to this crucial area of constitutional law.

Even the most recent decisions, such as Alleyne v. United States (2013) regarding mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, have generated only more unpredictability in the doctrine and more disagreements among the justices’ viewpoints.  The path to an enduring doctrinal solution is not readily evident, and the Court’s unwillingness to reach consensus leaves the constitutional law of sentencing factfinding trapped in an ongoing cycle of unpredictability and doctrinal incoherence.

August 23, 2015 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Why Did the Supreme Court Sidestep Sentencing Dispute?"

The title of this post is not merely the question I had for a few Justices after the denial of cert last week in Jones v. US (lamented here and here), it is also the headline of this new National Law Journal article about this decision authored by Tony Mauro.  Here are excerpts:

The U.S. Supreme Court's ­refusal to add a Washington drug case to its docket would not ordinarily get much notice.  But when the court did just that on Oct. 14, it drew wide criticism for missing an opportunity to resolve a long-­running dispute over judicial discretion in ­sentencing.

The court denied certiorari in Jones v. United States, which asked the court to rule that in deciding on a sentence, federal judges should not be able to take into consideration conduct for which the defendant was acquitted.  In the Jones case, the trial judge significantly increased the sentences of three defendants by factoring in drug conspiracy charges that the jury had rejected.

"It is really hard to understand why the court ruled as it did," said University of Illinois College of Law professor Margareth Etienne, a sentencing expert. "It goes against everything the Supreme Court has said for the last 15 years."

Cato Institute senior fellow Ilya Shapiro said, "It's not just high-­profile culture-war issues like same-sex ­marriage and the right to bear arms that the Supreme Court is avoiding like the plague."  Shapiro said the court's action was "another opportunity lost by the Court, another responsibility shirked.  "The issue has been raised in numerous lower court decisions, and in a 2007 Supreme Court case, several justices said it should be taken up if the right case came along.  As recently as Oct. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit mentioned the Jones case in a ruling that criticized the "questionable ­practice" of basing sentences on uncharged or unproven offenses.

An unusual lineup of three justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — took the rare step of dissenting from the denial of review.  "This has gone on long enough," Scalia wrote. "The present petition presents the non-hypothetical case the court claimed to have been waiting for."

In the case the court denied, a District of Columbia jury found Antwuan Ball, Desmond Thurston and Joseph Jones guilty in 2007 of selling between two and 11 grams of cocaine, relatively small amounts. They were acquitted on racketeering and other charges that they were part of an extensive narcotics conspiracy. Yet, when U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts sentenced the three, he said he "saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy," and sentenced Ball, Thurston and Jones to 18, 16 and 15 years in prison, respectively — four times higher than the highest sentences given for others who sold similar amounts of cocaine, according to filings with the Supreme Court....

Stephen Leckar, of counsel to Kalbian Hagerty in Washington, who represented the defendants in the petition denied last week, said he was disappointed that the petition fell "one vote short" of being granted certiorari. The fact that conservatives Scalia and Thomas dissented — along with liberal Ginsburg — "ought to be a fire bell in the night" signaling that the issue should be resolved, Leckar said....

The University of Illinois' Etienne speculated that some justices may have felt the facts of the Jones case were "too good" to be a vehicle for making a broad pronouncement on the issue. She explained that Jones involved a judge ignoring an actual acquittal by a jury, whereas a more common scenario is a judge basing an enhanced sentence on conduct that may or may not have been charged or was not part of a plea agreement. Ruling on a case involving an actual acquittal might leave the broader issue unresolved. "It is going to take a while" for the court to revisit the issue, Etienne added. "Until it does, the old adage that one is 'innocent until proven guilty' will continue to have little meaning."

Previous related posts on the Jones case:

October 20, 2014 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three Justices dissent from denial of certiorari in Jones/Ball acquitted conduct case

I am very disappointed to have to report that this morning the Supreme Court denied certiorari review in the notable federal drug sentencing case from DC involving Antwan Ball and his co-defendants concerning judicial fact-finding to increase a federal guideline sentence contrary to a jury acquittal.  As I noted in this post last week, Jones v. US, No. 13-10026, was relisted by the Justices after their "long conference."  Now today's SCOTUS order list has at the very end the news that cert has been denied in Jones v. US, No. 13-10026, with a three-page dissent from that decision authored by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Ginsburg.  Mega-bummer!!!

Here is the bulk of Justice Scalia's dissent from the denial of cert in Jones (with emphasis in the original): 

A jury convicted petitioners Joseph Jones, Desmond Thurston, and Antwuan Ball of distributing very small amounts of crack cocaine, and acquitted them of conspiring to distribute drugs. The sentencing judge, however, found that they had engaged in the charged conspiracy and, relying largely on that finding, imposed sentences that petitioners say were many times longer than those the Guidelines would otherwise have recommended.

Petitioners present a strong case that, but for the judge’s finding of fact, their sentences would have been “substantively unreasonable” and therefore illegal.  See Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338, 372 (2007) (SCALIA, J., joined by THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).  If so, their constitutional rights were violated.  The Sixth Amendment, together with the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, “requires that each element of a crime” be either admitted by the defendant, or “proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 3). Any fact that increases the penalty to which a defendant is exposed constitutes an element of a crime, Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 483, n. 10, 490 (2000), and “must be found by a jury, not a judge,” Cunningham v. California, 549 U. S. 270, 281 (2007).  We have held that a substantively unreasonable penalty is illegal and must be set aside.  Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51 (2007).  It unavoidably follows that any fact necessary to prevent a sentence from being substantively unreasonable — thereby exposing the defendant to the longer sentence — is an element that must be either admitted by the defendant or found by the jury.  It may not be found by a judge.

For years, however, we have refrained from saying so.  In Rita v. United States, we dismissed the possibility of Sixth Amendment violations resulting from substantive reasonableness review as hypothetical and not presented by the facts of the case.  We thus left for another day the question whether the Sixth Amendment is violated when courts impose sentences that, but for a judge-found fact, would be reversed for substantive unreasonableness.  551 U.S., at 353; see also id., at 366 (Stevens, J., joined in part by GINSBURG, J., concurring) (“Such a hypothetical case should be decided if and when it arises”).  Nonetheless, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly taken our continuing silence to suggest that the Constitution does permit otherwise unreasonable sentences supported by judicial factfinding, so long as they are within the statutory range....

This has gone on long enough.  The present petition presents the nonhypothetical case the Court claimed to have been waiting for.  And it is a particularly appealing case, because not only did no jury convict these defendants of the offense the sentencing judge thought them guilty of, but a jury acquitted them of that offense.  Petitioners were convicted of distributing drugs, but acquitted of conspiring to distribute drugs.  The sentencing judge found that petitioners had engaged in the conspiracy of which the jury acquitted them. The Guidelines, petitioners claim, recommend sentences of between 27 and 71 months for their distribution convictions.  But in light of the conspiracy finding, the court calculated much higher Guidelines ranges, and sentenced Jones, Thurston, and Ball to 180, 194, and 225 months’ imprisonment.  

On petitioners’ appeal, the D. C. Circuit held that even if their sentences would have been substantively unreasonable but for judge-found facts, their Sixth Amendment rights were not violated.  744 F. 3d 1362, 1369 (2014).  We should grant certiorari to put an end to the unbroken string of cases disregarding the Sixth Amendment — or to eliminate the Sixth Amendment difficulty by acknowledging that all sentences below the statutory maximum are substantively reasonable.

I am especially disappointed that Justice Scalia and his joiners here could not garner one more vote to grant cert from any of the newer Justices who came on the Court after Blakely and Booker became the Sixth Amendment law of the land.  Of course, Justice Alito has frequently shown his disaffinity for expanding the Sixth Amendment rights recognized in those cases.  But Chief Justice Roberts joined the Blakely gang in applying (and arguably expanding) Sixth Amendment rights in Cunningham v. California and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan have "shown empathy" for defendants seeking expanded applications of the Sixth Amendment in more recent cases such as Alleyne.  As I will explain in a future post, anyone (like me) hoping that Justices Sotomayor and Kagan might end up being even more committed to defendants' procedural rights at sentencing has to be deeply troubled by their disinclination to provide a fourth vote for granting cert in Jones.

Previous related posts on this case and acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements:

October 14, 2014 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Monday, October 06, 2014

Trying not to get too excited about SCOTUS relist in Jones/Ball acquitted conduct case

Regular readers likely recall a number of posts about the notable federal drug sentencing case from DC involving Antwan Ball and his co-defendants concerning judicial fact-finding to increase a federal guideline sentence contrary to a jury acquittal. As I noted in this post last week, this case, Jones v. US, No. 13-10026, was consider by the Justices at their "long conference." When there was subsequently no announcement of cert being granted last week, I assumed today's SCOTUS order list (noted here) would include Jones v. US, No. 13-10026, on the long list of cases for which certiorari was denied.

But, while the Justices surprised many court-watchers today by denying cert on all the same-sex marriage cases, they surprised me by "relisting" Jones v. US, as noted in this official docket report, for consideration again at the Court's conference this coming Friday.  This is relatively big news — to the extent that not making a cert decision is big news — because a relist is usually a strong signal that one or more Justices are strongly interested in the case and want some more time to mull over the possibility of a grant of cert or some other significant action.

Still, as the title of this post is intended to connote, I am trying real hard to resist getting excited by the prospect of cert being granted in Jones (and/or in another acquitted conduct case) real soon.  It is quite possible — dare I say perhaps even likely — that this relist is just a sign that a Justice or two is working on a dissent from the denial of cert review and need another few days to put the finishing touches on that dissent.   Indeed, given how crisply the acquitted conduct issue is presented in Jones and how many prior petitions have failed to garner the votes need for a cert grant in recent years, it is hard to imagine that the Justices want or need more time to mull this over.  But, while the Dougie Downer voice in my head will keep telling me not to get too excited by all this, the optimist voice in my head keeps imaginging that the big baseball and Sixth Amendment fans on the Supreme Court, namely Justices Scalia and Sotomayor, are going to convince enough of their colleague to finally be willing to "play Ball" and take up the acquitted conduct issue in Jones v. US.   

Previous related posts on this case and acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements:

October 6, 2014 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rooting for acquitted conduct petition grant from SCOTUS long conference

Today, on the first Monday before the first Monday in October, the US Supreme Court Justices meet for the so called "long conference" at which they consider which of the large number of cert petitions that piled up over the summer ought to be heard during the Court's upcoming term. SCOTUSblog this morning here reviews some of the highest profile matters sure to generate the bulk of coverage and commentary.

Of course, I am always hoping/rooting for the Justices to grant cert on any and all sentencing issues. But there is one particular case, Jones v. US coming up from the DC Circuit, in which I filed an amicus in support of cert and thus in which I have a particular interest.  Regular readers of this blog are familiar with this case, which concerns judicial fact-finding to increase a federal guideline sentence contrary to a jury acquittal. (In prior posts (some of which appear below), I stressed the sentence given to one of the co-defendants in this Jones case, Antwan Ball.)

Over at SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston provided this effective review of the case and the SCOTUS filings a few weeks ago, and I encourage readers to check out that post or my prior posts linked below for context and background.  Here I will be content to provide this link to the cert petition and this link to my amicus brief in support of cert, as well as these paragraphs from the start of my amicus brief:

Sentencing rules permitting substantive circumvention of the jury’s work enables overzealous prosecutors to run roughshod over the traditional democratic checks of the adversarial criminal process the Framers built into the U.S. Constitution.  When applicable rules allow enhancement based on any and all jury-rejected “facts,” prosecutors can brazenly charge any and all offenses for which there is a sliver of evidence, and pursue those charges throughout trial without fear of any consequences when seeking later to make out their case to a sentencing judge.  When acquittals carry no real sentencing consequences, prosecutors have nothing to lose (and much to gain) from bringing multiple charges even when they might expect many such charges to be ultimately rejected by a jury.  Prosecutors can overcharge defendants safe in the belief they can renew their allegations for judicial reconsideration as long as the jury finds that the defendant did something wrong.  Indeed, piling on charges makes it more likely that the jury will convict of at least one charge, thus opening the door for prosecutors to re-litigate all their allegations before the judge.  Under such practices, the sentencing becomes a trial, and the trial becomes just a convenient dress rehearsal for prosecutors....

The Petitioners contend, as several Justices have already observed, that the Sixth Amendment is implicated whenever a legal rule (in this case, substantive reasonableness review) makes judge-discovered facts necessary for a lengthy sentence.  Amicus further highlights that this case presents the narrowest and most troubling instance of such a Sixth Amendment problem — namely express judicial reliance on so-called “acquitted conduct” involving jury-rejected, judge-discovered offense facts to calculate an enhanced Guideline sentencing range and thereby justify an aggravated sentence.  By allowing prosecutors and judges to nullify jury findings at sentencing such as in the case at bar, the citizen jury is “relegated to making a determination that the defendant at some point did something wrong,” and the jury trial is rendered “a mere preliminary to a judicial inquisition into the facts of the crime the State actually seeks to punish.” Blakely, 542 U.S. at 306-07.

Though various forms of judicial fact-finding within structured sentencing systems may raise constitutional concerns, this case only concerns the uniquely serious and dangerous erosion of Sixth Amendment substance if and when Guideline ranges are enhanced by facts indisputably rejected by the jury.  It may remain possible “to give intelligible content to the right of a jury trial,” Blakely, 542 U.S. at 305-06, by allowing broad judicial sentencing discretion to be informed by Guidelines calculated based on facts never contested before a jury.  But when a federal judge significantly enhances a prison sentence based expressly on allegations indisputably rejected by a jury verdict of not guilty, the jury trial right is rendered unintelligible and takes on a meaning that could only be advanced by a Franz Kafka character and not by the Framers of our Constitution.

Previous related posts on this case and acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements:

September 29, 2014 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 01, 2014

"Procedural Rights at Sentencing"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article by Carissa Byrne Hessick and F. Andrew Hessick.  Here is the abstract:

In determining which constitutional procedural rights apply at sentencing, courts have distinguished between mandatory and discretionary sentencing systems.  For mandatory systems ― systems that limit sentencing factors and specify particular punishments based on particular facts ― defendants enjoy important rights including the right to a jury, the right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to notice of potential sentencing aggravators, and the right not to be sentence based on ex post facto laws.  By contrast, for discretionary systems ― systems that leave the determination of sentencing factors and how much punishment to impose based on particular facts to the judge’s discretion ― defendants do not enjoy these protections.

This Article challenges this discrepancy.  It argues that, given the rationales underlying each of these rights, there is equal reason to apply these rights in discretionary sentencing systems as in mandatory ones.  As it explains, procedural rights regulate the means by which facts are found and the manner in which courts use those facts, and consequently are critical to discretionary systems.  Just as in mandatory sentencing systems, judges in discretionary systems must make factual findings to determine the appropriate sentence to impose.  The Article argues that the various justifications for providing fewer procedures in discretionary schemes are based on misconceptions about the nature of discretion at sentencing and inaccurate historical analysis.

May 1, 2014 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Might SCOTUS soon (ever?) consider whether its Apprendi jurisprudence should apply to criminal forfeitures?

The question in the title of this post is my response to the brief discussion of a constitutional claim appearing in yesterday's Ninth Circuit decision in US v. Wilkes, No. 11-50152 (9th Cir. March 10, 2014) (available here).  Here is why:

Wilkes argues that determination of the amount of his criminal forfeiture by the district judge, as opposed to a jury, violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Wilkes argues that Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), require that the jury find facts justifying an increase in either end of the range of the prescribed penalty. Wilkes further argues that Southern Union Co. v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2344 (2012), applied Apprendi and, by extension, Alleyne, to monetary penalties — which he contends includes criminal forfeiture.

Wilkes’s argument is directly contradicted by binding Supreme Court precedent. In Libretti v. United States, 516 U.S. 29, 48–49 (1995), the Court expressly held that there is no Sixth Amendment right to a jury verdict in a criminal forfeiture proceeding. The Supreme Court has cautioned courts of appeals against concluding that “recent cases have, by implication, overruled an earlier precedent.” Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203, 237 (1997).  Thus, “[i]f a precedent of [the Supreme] Court has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to [the Supreme] Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions.” Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am. Express, Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989). In compliance with the Supreme Court’s instructions, we reject the argument that Southern Union implicitly overruled Libretti.

Notably, and I think sensibly, this Ninth Circuit panel does not try to explain why Libretti is still sound and good law in light of Apprendi, Southern Union and Alleyne. Instead, it says it is not its role/job to reverse a pre-Apprendi ruling based on Apprendi; that is what SCOTUS has to do. But since SCOTUS has reversed at least two significant pre-Apprendi rulings based on Apprendi, defendants might be wise to keep raising and preserving this claim until the Supreme Court gives it another modern review.

March 11, 2014 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 02, 2014

"Sentencing and Prior Convictions: The Past, the Future, and the End of the Prior Conviction Exception to Apprendi"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting and potent new paper now available via SSRN and authored by the always interesting and potent Nancy King. Here is the abstract:

This article traces the fascinating history of early efforts to identify defendants and their prior convictions as well as the evolving use of prior convictions in aggravating punishment; examines how contemporary repeat offender penalties fall short of punishment goals and contribute to the racially lopsided profile of punishment today; and critiques potential justifications for the prior conviction exception to the rule in Apprendi v. New Jersey, arguing that the exception should be abandoned.

The article summarizes empirical research testing the relationship between prior convictions and examining the efficacy of repeat offender sentences in reducing recidivism; collects commentary on the use of risk prediction in sentencing; surveys state-by-state eighteenth century authority that belies the claim that denying element status to prior convictions that raise the range of punishment is a longstanding tradition; evaluates the weaknesses of the case law underlying the Court's decision in Almendarez-Torres; argues that defendants need not be prejudiced when prior convictions are treated as elements; and observes that the original reason that a very small number of states in the nineteenth century stopped requiring prior convictions to be treated as elements — namely, that an offender’s criminal history was often unknown unless or until a warden recognized him — no longer exists.

An earlier version of the article was delivered as the Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law at the Marquette University Law School.

February 2, 2014 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, June 24, 2013

Are 12 Alleyne GVRs (including one from Kansas) a sign of big Sixth Amendment things to come?

Busy on various fronts, I have not yet had time to think through all the impacts that the Supreme Court's Sixth Amendment work last week in Alleyne might produce.  But today, via this SCOTUS order list, I see that there are 12 cases in which certiorari is granted and the judgment vacated, so the case can be remanded "for further consideration in light of Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. ___ (2013)."

Some GVRs after a big SCOTUS sentencing ruling are not always a big deal, as there can often be a number of cases in the cert pipeline that are just like the case in which the Supreme Court announced its new doctrine. But, in addition to being intrigued that there were at least a dozen Alleyne-type claims already in the SCOTUS pipeline that now led to these GVRs, I find especially notable that one comes from Kansas (Astorga v. Kansas) and thus involves a remanded "to the Supreme Court of Kansas for further consideration in light of Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. ___ (2013)."

My sense has been that Alleyne could and would not end up being nearly as disruptive to any state sentencing systems as Blakely had been. But this Kansas remand, as well my own sense that at least a few states relied on Harris for a while to keep some parts of their sentencing systems in tact, prompts the question in the title of this post.

June 24, 2013 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, June 17, 2013

First-cut reactions as to what is big, and not so big, about Alleyne's reversal of Harris

I will likely have a lot to say about the specifics of the Sixth Amendment discussions in all the Alleyne opinions later today once I get more time to review the decision more closely.  But I have three quick reactions about the ruling and its potential impact I wanted to share right away.  I will give this trio of reactions these labels: big, not-so-big, could-be-huge.

The Big of Alleyne: though serious talk of a "Booker" fix to the advisory guidelines sentencing system has not had much juice for a very long time, the Alleyne ruling serves as a final nail in the "mandatory topless guidelines" idea that made the rounds as a potential legislative response to Blakely and Booker in the federal system.  That "fix," which would have required judges to do fact-finding to raise guideline minimums without impacting maximums, depended on the validity and vitality of Harris.  And Harris is now a goner.

The No-So-Big of Alleyne: though persons imprisoned now based on mandatory minimums triggered by judicial fact-finding might hope Alleyne is a new jurisprudential key to freedom, a host of doctrices may ensure very few new imprisoned persons get much benefit from Alleyne.  For starters, the retroactivity doctrines of Teague and AEDPA may make it hard for those long ago sentenced to get their Alleyne claims even heard in court.  Moreover, the harmeless error doctrines of Cotton and Recuenco may make it easy now for judges to say, even in those cases in which the issue can still be raised, that any Sixth Amendment error was harmless.

The Could-Be-Huge of Alleyne: there are any number of shaky exceptions and carve-outs to the full application of Apprendi doctrines, ranging from the prior-conviction exception of Almendarez-Torres to all sorts of efforts by lower courts to refuse to acknowledge Apprendi's potential impact on all sorts of judicial fact-finding that impacts punishment realities.  If Alleyne (which comes just a year after Southern Union) portends a Court now willing and eager to keep taking up Apprendi issues and extending the reach of the Sixth Amendment, we all might be in for quite an interesting Sixth Amendment ride over the next few Term.  (And, for the really creative, perhaps Alleyne could be combined with Peugh to perhaps even generate procedural protections even for federal defendants sentencing in a post-Booker world.)

Prior related post on Alleyne ruling:

June 17, 2013 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Per Justice Thomas in 5-4 SCOTUS split, Alleyne extends Sixth Amendment to findings triggering mandatory minimums

Big news from SCOTUS today for sentencing fans, with this (abridged) initial report coming from the fine folks live-blogging at SCOTUSblog:

Alleyene: Any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an "element" that must be submitted to the jury. 5-4 opinion per Justice Thomas.

Majority is Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Dissent by Roberts, joined by Scalia and Kennedy. Alito dissents separately.... Justice Sotomayor also filed a concurring opinion....

This is a major criminal law ruling on the right to a jury trial. The Court reverses an earlier contrary ruling....

Here is the opinion in Alleyne.

And here is the money quote from the majority opinion: "Because there is no basis in principle or logic to distinguish facts that raise the maximum from those that increase the minimum, Harris was inconsistent with Apprendi. It is, accordingly, overruled." Alleyne, slip op at 15.

Based on a much-too-quick first read, this Alleyne ruling seems to be everything (and not much more) than what should have been expected and predicted when the Court granted cert to reconsider Harris.  With all new Justices filling in the roles and votes of their predecessors, Harris gets reversed now because (and only because) Justice Breyer is no longer willing to prop up the ruling.  And, as he continues to play Hamlet with Sixth Amendment doctrine, Justice Breyer also continues to dump on the whole Apprendi line of case.

As I predicted in this post last November (and especially with speculations precedents inother areas perhaps being in jeopardy), the most interesting and enduring significance of Alleyne is the sparring between Justices Sotomayor and Alito over stare decisis.  I suspect after the con law folks get over their disappointment that we did not get any huge SCOTUS rulings today, there will be some enduring buzz over what all the Justices had to say (and not say) about stare decisis in Alleyne.

June 17, 2013 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Another perspective on Alleyne argument (predicting Harris's demise)

Experienced lawyer and federal sentencing guru Mark Allenbaugh (firm website here), who has already provided a terrific review of last week's meeting of the US Sentencing Commission for the blog here, now comes through with this lengthy guest-post concerning what he saw at yesterday's SCOTUS oral argument over the reach of the Apprendi:

In a rather spirited exchange between the Justices and counsel, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Alleyne v. United States, 11-9335. (Alleyne is pronounced “AH-lane,” by the way).   The question presented was whether the Court should over-rule its decade old plurality decision in Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), which held that Apprendi did not apply to facts triggering mandatory minimum penalties. In Alleyne, the defendant was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), which requires a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm in connection with another felony, but a 7-year mandatory minimum if the firearm was brandished, 10 years if discharged.   Moreover, such mandatory minimum penalties are to be imposed consecutive to any guidelines sentence for the underlying felony.   A special verdict form was used in Alleyne as to whether the defendant merely possessed or brandished the firearm; the jury found only that a firearm was possessed.   However, at sentencing, the district judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant in fact brandished the firearm.  And while reluctant to be a “reverser” of the jury, imposed the 7-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Court started off with a rather rigorous investigation into stare decisis.   Justices Alito and Scalia explored what the principle was for ignoring stare decisis in this case, and pondered the effect of prior opinions of the Court on Harris. Justice Ginsburg helpfully asked whether the issue simply was the degree of persuasiveness a plurality decision has vis-à-vis a unanimous opinion.  Still Justice Alito struggled with developing a constitutional principle that would support overruling Harris. Nevertheless, it did not appear that stare decisis would be an impediment to reversing Harris.

Moving on to the core issue, the Justices struggled with what the holdings in Apprendi and McMillan (upon which Harris rested) meant in terms of increased penalty exposure.  If the ceiling (statutory maximum) is increased, all agreed that that clearly increases a defendant’s exposure. T he issue was whether that also applied to the floor (mandatory minimum).  Justice Scalia repeatedly returned to the fact that if only the floor changes, say from 5 years to 7 years, it does not change what a judge “could have” imposed, and therefore does not increase a defendant’s exposure.  So, for example, if the ranges are 5 to 10 years, a judge could just as easily impose a 7 year sentences the same as if the range were 7 to 10 years.  The government framed the issue as whether a defendant has a constitutional right to judicial leniency. i.e., to a lower sentence than the mandatory minimum.

Interestingly, while there was a focus on the statutory maximum, there was little discussion of a penalty “range,” which to this observer would have seemed to address much of the concern.  A range, of course, implies both a ceiling and a floor.  Apprendi did, after all, discuss exposure not only in terms of an increased statutory maximum penalty, but expressly held that “[I]t is unconstitutional for a legislature to remove from the jury the assessment of facts that increase the prescribed RANGE of penalties to which a criminal defendant is exposed.” (Emphasis added).  And as we all know, Booker, in holding the Federal Sentencing Guidelines unconstitutional, was concerned about “ranges” there as well.  So, if the argument had moved away from just the ceiling and to “range,” then it would have seemed to address some of the Court’s concerns.  Interestingly, Justice Breyer, who candidly admitted in Harris that he could not logically distinguish Apprendi from its application to mandatory minimum penalties, was silent throughout much of the debate.

Finally, there was some interesting discussions concerning statistics from Justices Kagan and Sotomayor.  Those Justices inquired as to the frequency of sentences imposed at the mandatory minimum in 924(c) cases.  Presumably if judges impose sentences at the mandatory minimum the majority of the time (and Petitioner’s counsel indicated that this is the case), such a finding presumably would tend to show that judges likely would impose a lower sentence if they could (and indeed, per the record below, that appeared to be the case in Alleyne).   However, the question was not framed quite right.  The penalties at 924(c) are imposed consecutive to any guideline sentence, so unless one knew what the underlying guideline sentence was, merely looking at the final sentence would not be instructive.  Further, and more importantly, the Commission does not provide any statistics on 924(c) that would be helpful to answering this question (although Ch. 9 of its recent report to Congress on Mandatory Minimum Penalties does provide some insight). Providing such statistics would be quite helpful, and the Commission’s database appears robust enough to provide reports on the same.

In the end, it appears to this observer that Harris will be overruled. Given that Harris will have little practical effect on sentencing practice because the government already includes in the indictment the facts that trigger a mandatory minimum, it is somewhat odd (to this observer) why the Court granted cert. in Alleyne.  Was it simply an academic exercise to clean-up Harris?  Perhaps, although it could be the start of a larger effort.  The Court recently asked the government to file a response to a petition of cert. in Stroud v. United States, 12-6877 addressing the controversial holding in Watts that courts may use acquitted and uncharged conduct at sentencing.

Recent prior posts on Alleyne case:

January 15, 2013 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, January 14, 2013

An early report on Alleyne argument over Apprendi's reach

As previewed here, today was a big day for the Sixth Amendment before the Supreme Court.  Hard-core sentencing fans have to be interested in the Alleyne case concerning the right to a jury determination of facts that trigger the application of mandatory minimum sentencing terms.  Lyle Denniston has this SCOTUSblog recap of today's argument in Alleyne, which gets started this way:

After taking an obligatory look at whether the Supreme Court should feel bound by its past precedents, the Justices on Monday moved into an issue clearly of more interest to them: what do they need to do to protect the role of juries in laying the groundwork for criminal sentences? This inquiry turned into a combative discussion of just what the Court meant in 2000 in giving jurors a much-enhanced role when their verdicts trigger the fixing of sentences — the historic decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey.

The Justices who were opposed to expanding Apprendi argued that it dealt singularly with curbing judges who decide to impose a sentence beyond the top limit set by the legislature, while the Justices who seemed ready to push Apprendi a bit further contended that it should mean that increasing a convicted individual’s potential sentence should depend upon what the jury found, not the judge.  There did not seem to be a middle ground.  The two lawyers arguing the case were just as far apart.

As long-time readers should know, I keep trying to push a distinction between offense facts and offender facts as kind of a middle-ground position on Apprendi's reach, and that idea finds expression in an amicus brief I helped put together in Alleyne (discussed here).  Sadly, based on this early account of today's argument in Alleyne, it would appear that yet another group of inside-the-beltway folks are more interested in sticking to their polarizing positions than in coming up with middle-ground solutions to important problems.

I suspect I will have more to say about Alleyne after I get a chance to read the oral argument transcript, which is now available at this link.

Recent prior posts on Alleyne case:

January 14, 2013 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, January 11, 2013

Great weekend reading for Sixth Amendment fans

My main plans for the coming weekend is to watch a lot of (well-paid) large men running around a small field inflicting brain damage on one another while millions cheer them on while drinking lots of alcohol (aka the NFL divisional playoffs).  But I may also have to spend a little time obsessing over the Sixth Amendment and its application to mandatory minimum sentencing fact-finding because Monday brings the Supreme Court oral argument in Alleyne v. United States (basics and briefing here via SCOTUSblog).

Moreover, as Rory Little spotlights in this new SCOTUSblog post, there is also another distinct type of Sixth Amendment case on tap for the Justices on Monday.  Here is how Rory's preview gets started:

Monday is apparently “Sixth Amendment Day” at the Court.  Most eyes will be on the first case to be argued (Alleyne v. United States), in which the Court will consider whether there an Apprendi right to jury trial for mandatory minimum sentencing facts.  But don’t ignore the second case, Boyer v. Louisiana, which presents a Speedy Trial question that seems increasingly important in a world of rising appointed-counsel costs funded by decreasing government budgets.

When a criminal trial is delayed because there are no funds to pay for the indigent defendant’s counsel, does that delay count against “the state” in a Speedy Trial analysis?  We’ll see whether the Justices can stay focused on this discrete question presented – which would be an important one to answer around the nation — or whether they will take the bait (offered by both sides albeit in opposite directions) to decide whether the right to speedy trial was actually violated on the (always) unique facts of this case?  The normal course would be to answer only the question presented, and then remand for “further proceedings not inconsistent” with the Court’s opinion.  While “bad facts” on both sides in this case might tug for a broader ruling, it seems more likely that the Justices will avoid a decision on the ultimate merits – which still leaves a difficult debate on the narrower question.

In addition to the parties' briefs in both cases, there are two amicus briefs filed in Boyer and six amicus briefs filed in Alleyne.  If the NFL playoff games fail to hold my attention, I likely will pull some of these briefs up on my e-reader; I would greatly appreciate any informed (or even uninformed) recommendations as to which of all these briefs make for the best reads. 

Of course, I am partial to the Alleyne brief I help put together for the New York Council of Defense Lawyers (discussed here), in part because it presents an approach to the Sixth Amendment that does not appear in other briefs.  I suspect that, especially in all the Alleyne case, a lot of similar ground may get covered in all the usual discussion of Sixth Amendment jurisprudence; I am thus especially interested to figure out whether and how any fresh ideas about the Apprendi line of cases have been presented to the Justices in all the briefing.

Recent prior posts on Alleyne case:

January 11, 2013 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, January 07, 2013

SCOTUS cert grant and argument in cases (only?) hard-core sentencing fans should love

After its usual lengthy holiday recess, the US Supreme Court is back in action this week with a full slate of oral arguments and with plans to issue opinions in cases argued earlier this Term on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  And, as well covered here at SCOTUSblog, the Justices got all the new year action off to a running start with a trio of cert grants which included a plea practices case:

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on the rights of non-Indian couples to adopt an Indian child over the objection of a parent who is a tribal member.   That was one of three newly granted cases. The others deal with the remedy if a federal judge has some role in plea bargaining discussions, and a dispute among states over sharing the waters of a river that flows between them....

The Justices agreed to hear an appeal by the federal government in United States v. Davila (12-167), testing what the remedy is to be in a plea-bargained criminal case when a federal judge had some role leading up to agreement on the plea deal.  The Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that, if the judge (in this case, a magistrate judge) has any role whatsoever in the plea talks, the guilty plea that resulted must be thrown out.   The government petition argued that the guilty plea should be overturned only if the judge’s participation had resulted in prejudice to the accused.

If the issue that the Justices have now taken up in Davila is not intricate enough to scratch the procedural itch of hard-core sentencing fans, today's first scheduled SCOTUS oral argument should provide the perfect balm. Dan Richman provides at SCOTUSblog a great preview of the case in this post with the metaphysical title "When is a burglary a 'burglary'?". Here is how the post starts:

Because its application brings some of the federal system’s harshest mandatory penalties, and requires federal courts to categorize a diverse range of prior state convictions (most of which arose out of guilty pleas on undeveloped records), the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), has provided the Court with considerable business (and a fair amount of exasperation).  Descamps v. United States, 11-9540, set for argument on Monday, January 7, presents the Court with yet another categorization exercise that highlights the tension between such exercises and the Court’s developing constitutional doctrine about when judges can find facts in criminal proceedings.

These paragraphs from Dan's terrific preview spotlights why anyone who enjoys (or hates) visiting Apprendi-land should keep an eye on Descamps:

While the issue is pitched as one of statutory interpretation, substantial constitutional concerns lurk just beneath the surface.   As the Court explained in Cunningham v. California, under the Apprendi line of cases, the Sixth Amendment right to jury trial prohibits “a sentencing scheme that allows a judge to impose a sentence above the statutory maximum based on a fact, other than a prior conviction, not found by a jury or admitted by the defendant.”  The doctrine’s focus on statutory maximums (which are rarely imposed), but not mandatory minimums (which always are) is an artifact of a line of cases that, on January 14, 2013, will, once again, be up for reconsideration when the Court hears argument in Alleyne v. United States.  But the rule’s carve-out reflects the continued vitality of Almendarez-Torres v. United States, which held that fact-finding as to the existence of prior convictions can be done by judges, not juries, even when such findings can increase a defendant’s statutory maximum.  Because this carve-out is a glaring exception from the constitutional rule, the Court has patrolled it carefully, in cases like Shepard v. United States, which limited the universe of materials a sentencing court can consult to determine what the jury in the prior case was actually required to find, or what the defendant necessarily admitted....

Although the Court specifically refused to grant that part of Descamps’s petition asking for Almendarez-Torres to be overruled, it will be interesting to see whether hostility to that case drives oral argument.  By Justice Thomas’s tally in Shepard v. United States, “a majority of the Court now recognizes that Almendarez-Torres was wrongly decided.”  So look for the Justices to limit the Almendarez-Torres carve-out by making inquiries into the nature of prior offenses as mechanistic as possible.  Given the warnings by lower courts of the practical and constitutional difficulties raised by the Ninth Circuit’s outlier approach, we should expect the government to face an uphill battle.  And, for all its technical aspects, it is one worth watching, as the heaviness with which the federal hand comes down on a lot of defendants depends on how their prior criminal convictions get categorized.

UPDATE The oral argument trascript in Descamps is now available at this link.  I will blog about anything interesting I find within it if/when I have time this evening (in other words, if the National Championship game gets boring).

January 7, 2013 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, December 31, 2012

Will 2013 finally bring the demise of Harris via the Alleyne case?

I have been too busy with family et al. this holiday season to find the time to complete either a 2012 sentencing year-in-review post or a set of 2013 sentencing law and policy predictions.  But, on this last day of 2012, I can helpfully preview what is surely among the top sentencing stories to watch in the next year (especially for Apprendi fans): the Supreme Court's consideration of the Alleyne case, in which the Justices are to consider whether to reverse the mandatory minimum exception to the Apprendi Sixth Amendment doctrine.

This preview comes principally via a new BNA article by David Debold and Matthew Benjamin, which I have been permitted to post here.  The piece is titled "Is Harris a Mandatory Minimums Ruling Whose Time Has Run Out?", and it starts this way:

On Jan. 14, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument in Alleyne v. United States, the latest case to explore the contours of the Sixth Amendment’s jury-trial guarantee at the sentencing phase. Since 2000, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark opinion in Apprendi v. New Jersey, the rule has been that, "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."

On numerous occasions over the past dozen years, the court has applied this rule to invalidate sentencing schemes that allowed judges to find facts that would expose a defendant to a more severe sentencing outcome.  Just last term, in Southern Union Co. v. United States, the court held for the first time that Apprendi applies to the imposition of criminal fines....

Alleyne raises a variation on the Apprendi theme. Unlike cases such as Southern Union, where the court applied the Sixth Amendment to the finding of facts capable of raising the sentencing ceiling, Alleyne will address whether a jury must find facts that raise the floor—otherwise known as mandatory minimums.  This is familiar territory for the Supreme Court. Just a couple of years after Apprendi, the court held in Harris v. United States that the Sixth Amendment does not require that a jury determine the facts that raise the bottom of a statutory sentencing range.  Thus, under Harris, a judge may constitutionally find facts that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence within the existing statutory range, and the judge may find such facts by a preponderance of the evidence, with no need for the government to allege them in an indictment.

The vitality of the holding in Harris has always been tenuous, at best.  The crucial fifth vote came from Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who candidly admitted in his concurrence that he could not "easily distinguish Apprendi v. New Jersey from this case in terms of logic." Instead, he voted with the plurality only because he could "not yet accept [Apprendi’s] rule."  Many petitioners — recognizing that no more than four justices could agree on a principled basis for the Harris holding — have hoped to learn how Breyer would rule if ever forced to admit that Apprendi is here to stay.  But repeated requests for the court to revisit Harris have consistently failed — until the recent grant of certiorari in Alleyne. Alleyne thus presents the court with a long-anticipated opportunity to overrule Harris.

Download Debold-Benjamin BNA piece on Alleyne

Recent prior posts on Alleyne case:

December 31, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NYCDL amicus brief in Alleyne with an offense/offender kicker

As long time readers know, in 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 Stanford Law Review article, and unpacked it further (with Stephanos Bibas) in Making Sentencing Sensible.  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.

Consequently, when the Supreme Court decided it would take another trip to Apprendi-land by granting cert in Alleyne to consider the continued validity of the Harris mandatory minimum limit on the the Apprendi rule (basics here and here), I was interested in pitching the Justices yet again on the idea of incorporating an offense/offender distinction into some part of this jurisprudence.  Wonderfully, a terrific group of New York lawyers reached out to me about helping the New York Council of Defense Lawyers on an Alleyne amicus brief, and they were willing to add an offense/offender "kicker" to NYCDL's arguments for overruling Harris.  The NYCDL brief in which I lended a hand was filed yesterday and can be downloaded below.  Here are two key paragraphs from the summary of argument:

As this Court has applied Apprendi’s holding over the last decade, several Justices have expressed con-cerns about the rule’s potential impact on trials and sentencing.  As NYCDL’s experience in New York federal and state courts shows, any such effects will be minimal.  New York’s federal courts, for example, have operated for seven years under a paradigm for drug offenses that substantially parallels the structure all courts would face should this Court overturn Harris.  Practitioners there have been able to apply Apprendi’s rule to drug offenses with relative ease: from the indictment to the jury instructions or to the plea allocution, New York prosecutors and defense lawyers are able to address any facts that expose defendants not just to increased maximums, but also to increased minimums.  Similarly, criminal defense attorneys in New York state courts regularly confront situations where a jury is required to find facts that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence, without apparent difficulty or inefficiency.  These experiences buttress Petitioner’s argument that “there are no practical impediments to overruling Harris.”  Pet. Br. 42.

Moreover, any of the enduring practical concerns identified by certain Justices can be addressed by adopting an approach to overruling Harris that distinguishes between facts that are specific to the offense and facts that are specific to the offender.  The Constitution’s text requires that all facts relating to the alleged “crimes” at issue must be stated in the indictment and presented to the jury, which the Due Process clause requires to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  To avoid a requirement that aggravating facts concerning an offender’s past be presented to the jury if such offender-specific characteristics implicate a mandatory minimum, the Court should draw a line for Constitutional purposes that allows judicial determinations of offender-specific facts that are relevant to sentencing, so long as such facts do not alter the range of applicable sentences.  Such a rule comports with the particular competencies of the jury and judge: The jury’s traditional role is to answer questions about the criminal conduct alleged in an indictment, while the judge has historically been expected to assess broader offender-based considerations such as an offender’s criminal history, amenability to rehabilitation, and correctional treatment.  Where, as here, a sentencing judge acts as “the reverser of juries” in finding offense-related facts only by a preponderance of the evidence, the sentence is unconstitutional.  The decision below should be reversed.

Download NYCDL Amicus Brief in Alleyne

November 27, 2012 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 07, 2012

A musical message from Milbarge in honor of Harris reconsideration

Very long-time readers may recall some comical song parodies by the mysterious Milbarge concerning Blakely and Booker (example here). The classic of the genre was "'Twas the Night Before Booker," and even a re-reading of this 2004 ditty brings to mind a more innocent sentencing era.  I was thus excited to receive the following e-mail from Milbarge this weekend:

I'll confess that I'm just as excited for the Court's decision to reconsider Harris [basics here]. So even though my blog is on semi-permanent hiatus..., I decided to dust off the ol' parody song pen and see what I could come up with.

You may recall the old tv Western called "Branded," starring Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors. Here is a video of the opening credits and theme song. And here are the lyrics to the song.

It's kind of a weird song (it's used in "The Big Lebowski," by the way), which makes it difficult to parody, but I couldn't resist the branded/brandished wordplay. So here's my stab at a song to honor what will hopefully be the next sentencing watershed decision:

 

What did the jury find?
What will the sentence be?
Is Apprendi here to stay...?
Brandished!

 

Apprendi’s odd man out.
But can they say it was brandished
By a reas’nable doubt?!

 

Harris hung around...
Never overruled...
But now they’ve taken up Alleyne...
Brandished!

 

Mandatory prison time.
How can the judge say you brandished
When the jury didn’t bite?!

 

And it should be just five
But it’s seven to life.
Did they prove
Or indict...

 

Brandished!

Related post:

October 7, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Friday, October 05, 2012

SCOTUS grants cert to reconsider Harris

I am thankful that I am on the golf course this afternoon, and even more thankful I can blog via my smartphone about the decision by SCOTUS to grant cert to reconsider Harris.  Details to follow once back at a real computer.

UPDATE: Lyle Denniston has this lengthy post about this notable cert grant titled "Another revolution on sentencing?".  Here are excerpts:

The newly granted case is Alleyne v. United States (docket 11-9335), growing out of the robbery of a convenience store owner in Richmond, Va.  Allen R. Alleyne got eighty-four months added to his basic sentence for the robbery, on the theory that he would have known that his accomplice in the robbery would wield a gun as they carried out the robbery.  The added sentence was based upon the finding by the judge, not the jury, that Alleyne would have known about the plan to “brandish” a gun — a factor that leads to a mandatory minimum sentence beyond a basic sentence for the crime itself....

Since the Court decided the Apprendi case twelve years ago, various combinations of Justices have adhered to it, and sometimes expanded its reach.  But the Court had never extended it beyond enhancement of the maximum sentences that a legislature had laid down.  Justice Breyer, whose former leadership of the U.S. Sentencing Commission had made him at least a skeptic about Apprendi, but Alleyne’s public defender lawyers had pointed out in their new petition that Breyer had made comments in 2010 — when the Court was considering United States v. O’Brien — that the time may have come to revisit the Harris precedent.

The new petition argued: “Justice Breyer and the four dissenting Justices in Harris were correct in perceiving the logical and practical inconsistency of the plurality’s position.  A strict distinction between maximum and mandatory minimum sentences cannot be reconciled with the rule of Apprendi that the Constitution’s indictment, jury, and proof guarantees apply to all ‘facts that increase the prescribed range of penalties to which a criminal defendant is exposed.”...

In the Alleyne case, the accused was convicted of one count of robbery affecting interstate commerce, because the robbery occurred as a store manager was carrying deposits to a bank, and one count of using a gun during a crime of violence.  He received a forty-six-month sentence on the robbery charge.  The prosecutors also had charged Alleyne with brandishing a firearm during the robbery.  Even though the jury concluded that Alleyne had not done so, the trial judge ruled that Alleyne should have foreseen that his accomplice would brandish a gun during the robbery, so he had to be punished for that himself.  The judge then imposed an added eighty-four months of sentence on top of the forty-six months — as required under the federal law that imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for brandishing a gun.

Alleyne’s lawyer at the trial had conceded that the Harris decision did treat brandishing a gun as a sentencing factor, not as an element of the crime, the defense lawyer argued that Harris was inconsistent with Apprendi and later sentencing cases.  The judge rejected that challenge, but commented in imposing the added sentence that “I don’t like being the reverser of juries.”  The judge said that he had to countermand the jury finding that Alleyne did not brandish a gun because the Harris precedent gave him no choice.  The Justices are expected to hold argument on the Alleyne case either in January or February.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Todd Bussert has posted the cert petition in Alleyne in this post at his Federal Prison and Post Conviction Blog.

October 5, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Is SCOTUS gearing up to reconsider Harris and the Sixth Amendment's application to mandatory minimums?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by an exciting paragraph deep within John Elwood's exciting new SCOTUSblog post excitingly titled "Relist (and Hold) Watch." Here it is:

Unsurprisingly, the first real order list after the Long Conference left us with a boatload of relists.  Eleven, in fact.  Apprendi purists, ready the confetti:  Two of the relists, Alleyne v. United States, 11-9335, and Dotson v. United States, 11-9873 (which we first discussed in May), ask the Court to overrule Harris v. United States (2002).  You might recall that, in Harris, a plurality headed by Justice Kennedy plus Justice Breyer’s concurrence in the judgment held that facts that increased the mandatory minimum sentence need not be decided by the jury.  Two members of the Harris majority (Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor) are gone, as are two of the dissenters (Justices Stevens and Souter).  It would be a pretty big deal if the New ‘n’ Improved Court revisited Harris.  But I will try to curb my enthusiasm in case the Court is pulling its Lucy-and-the-football trick again, like it did both during OT2010 and last Term when it relisted cases seeking to revisit another sentencing rule in tension with Apprendi, Almendarez-Torres v. United States (holding that the fact of a prior conviction could be found by a judge rather than submitted to a jury) – only to deny those petitions without comment.

I have so much to say on this topic, but I need to first get my confetti ready and also put on my black-striped Charlie Brown yellow shirt.

October 3, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"A Demise Greatly Exaggerated — Apprendi Is Extended to Criminal Fines"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece authored by David Debold and Matthew Benjamin appearing in a recent issue of Bloomberg BNA’s Criminal Law Reporter.  The piece discusses the Supreme Court's Sixth Amendment work last Term in Southern Union, and here are two notable paragraphs from the piece's introduction:

Although relatively straightforward in its reasoning, the Southern Union holding has potentially farreaching consequences.  As Apprendi and later cases did with respect to sentences of imprisonment or death, Southern Union will strengthen the relative bargaining position of criminal defendants in plea negotiations over fines.  This is particularly true for corporations and other organizational defendants, for whom the most potent available punishment is a large fine and for whom the most likely resolution of criminal misconduct allegations is a settlement agreement.

Southern Union also can be expected to usher in new battles regarding the admissibility at trial of evidence that the decision now makes relevant to establishing a defendant’s maximum fine.

Finally, Southern Union suggests that the court — including its two newest members, Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both of whom joined the majority — is firmly committed to Apprendi and may consider recognizing that its constitutional protection extends to another financial penalty in criminal cases: restitution.  In short, reports of Apprendi’s possible demise — which started circulating after the court’s 2009 decision in Oregon v. Ice — appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

October 3, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Effective review of Southern Union's impact and potential import

For various understandable reasons, the Supreme Court significant Sixth Amendment ruling in Southern Union has not gotten all that much attention.  But this effective Indiana Lawyer article, headlined "US Supreme Court: Criminal fines require jury finding," provides a nice reminder of the significance of the ruling. Here are excerpts from this piece:

An end-of-term U.S. Supreme Court decision did far more than reduce a penalty in a federal criminal environmental judgment from $18 million to $50,000. It created a new reality for how the government will have to pursue such prosecutions in the future, experts say.

A rare coalition of conservative and liberal justices ruled 6-3 in Southern Union Co. v. United States, 11–94, that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires a jury to determine facts to support a sentence imposed after a guilty verdict....

“This is definitely a win for the defendants,” [Indiana University law professor Ryan] Scott told the Indiana Lawyer. “That said, the history of Apprendi is one of the Supreme Court recognizing more and more expansive jury rights and the government responding with great resilience.”

In essence, experts said, juries will have to determine factors such as lengths of violations for sentences involving fines on a “per day/per violation” basis, or losses and potential penalties in federal fraud cases. A simple guilty verdict such as that in Southern Union no longer is sufficient to allow a judge to use his or her discretion in levying criminal fines....

Southern Union seems to suggest that Apprendi may apply to any penalties inflicted by the government for the commission of offenses.... Also left for future consideration: “When does an offense rise beyond the level of ‘non-petty’ and become substantial enough to invoke the Apprendi rule?”

Scott also sees more Apprendi questions arising. The jury trial right could be a matter for the courts to decide in cases involving restitution determinations and in matters where asset forfeiture is ordered, he said.

July 19, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A (too) quick first take on Southern Union and Hill/Dorsey

I am so very pleased and grateful the Supreme Court finally handed down today opinions in two of the three big sentencing cases pending this term: we got Southern Union concerning Apprendi's applicability to fines (basic here), and Hill and Dorsey concerning application of the new crack FSA sentencing provisions to pipeline cases (basics here).  We still await Jackson and Miller, the juve LWOP Eighth Amendment cases (which, I would guess, will be handed down on Monday.)  Even before reading them very closely, I wanted to share a few quick reactions to today's notable sentencing rulings:

1.  In both cases, federal defendants prevailed and were able to get a SCOTUS reversal of pro-prosecution rulings issued by federal circuit courts.  This reality reinforces, yet again, my belief that the US Supreme Court is a much more pro-defendant appellate tribunal on sentencing issues than many (most? all?) other appellate courts in the nation.  (This means, inter alia, sentencing defendants unhappy with an appellate outcome in a lower court ought always seriously consider appealing to SCOTUS.)

2.  In both cases, oral argument proved to be a pretty good predictor of where the Justices were leaning, and those Justices with a history of engagement with sentencing issues were tasked with writing opinions for their colleagues.  We got two opinions from Justice Breyer (a majority and a lead dissent), and an opinion from Justice Sotomayor (a majority) and Justice Scalia (a dissent).  I was a bit surprised that Justice Alito did not write in either of these cases, though his vote in both was pro-prosecution and I suspect he has a (pro-prosecution) opinion coming in the juve LWOP cases.

3.  Because of the huge debates and controversy over crack sentencing rules, and because hundreds of crack cases are sentenced in federal courts every month, the Hill and Dorsey cases will likely get much more attention and have more short-term impact in the days and months ahead.  But Southern Union is the "bigger" decision because it shows (a) that there are now six Justices (including three of the four newer ones) who are happy to keep extending the Apprendi/Blakely rule and (b) that the Ice ruling cutting back on the Sixth Amendment's reach is likely to end up as an outlier in this jurisprudence.

4.  In light of the 6-3 outcome Southern Union, I see strong reasons for the defense bar to keep pushing hard to get the Justices to take up a case that enables reconsideration of the Almendarez-Torres exception (covering prior convictions) and the Harris exceptions (convering mandatory minimums) to the Apprendi rule.  Because Chief Justice Roberts is now a long-term citizen in Apprendi-land and because he has shown in other settings a willingness to engineer the overturning of precedents he finds misguided, the time may now be really ripe to find strong case(s) through which to seek reversal of these (misguided?) Apprendi exceptions.

June 21, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

In 6-3 opinion, SCOTUS finds that Apprendi rule applies to criminal fines

As I hoped and expected, today we finally got one of the big final sentencing cases from the Supreme Court.  Specifically, as per the early SCOTUSblog report, we have this Apprendi sighting:

Justice Sotomayor has opinion. The rule of Apprendi v. NJ applies to the imposition of criminal fines. The First Circuit is reversed. The vote is 6-3. Justice Breyer dissents, joined by Kennedy and Alito.

The full opinion is now available at this link and I am certain I wil have much to say about the ruling and its import in the hours to come.

UPDATE:  A very quick scan of the opinions (in which the dissent by Justice Breyer is nearly twice as long as the opinion for the Court) suggests that three of the four newer Justices are now happy citizens in Apprendi-land with Justice Alito the only newby on the outside complaining about this magical land's continued growth.

June 21, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, June 04, 2012

Another week of SCOTUS waiting for sentencing fans

I had thought there was a reasonable possibility that the Supreme Court sometime this week might hand down one of the big sentencing cases still pending: Southern Union (Apprendi's application to fines); Jackson and Miller (mandatory LWOP for young juve murderers); Dorsey and Hill (the FSA's application to pipeline cases).  But, as detailed via this post at How Appealing, the Justices did not issue opinions in any of these cases this morning.  They Justices did grant cert and hand down one opinion on police practice issues, and Lyle Denniston reports here at SCOTUSblog that probably the most notable criminal justice decision was a cert denied in two high-profile federal convictions flowing from campaign donations in Alabama. 

According to the folks at SCOTUSblog, it appear that the Court will not hand down opinions again until next Monday.  So, it's another week of waiting for these sentencing rulings.  Fortunately, absent some dramatic or unexpected development (such as a order for reagument), I think we can reasonably expect to see opinions in all of these cases within the next three weeks.

Anyone yet eager to make predictions on the timing, outcomes, vote counts or opinion writers in these big sentencing cases.  At this moments I am inclined to guess we will get Southern Union next week, the juve LWOP cases the week of June 18, and the FSA pipeline cases the week of June 25.  In addition, I think the defendants are likely to previal in these cases by votes of 7-2, 5-4, and 6-3, with Justices Thomas, Kennedy and Sotomayor as principal opinion writers. 

But who really knows with this Court these days!?!?

June 4, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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:

March 15, 2012 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Friday, March 09, 2012

How might newer Justices take on Apprendi jurisprudence in Southern Union?

A helpful e-mail from a reader reminded me that I have not blogged enough about the exciting Apprendi doctrine case that the Supreme Court will hear upon its return to oral argument action on March 19. The question presented in Southern Union v. US (SCOTUSblog coverage here) is simple enough: "Whether the Fifth and Sixth Amendment principles that this Court established in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and its progeny, apply to the imposition of criminal fines."  What is not simple is figuring out what the newer SCOTUS justices, particularly Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, think about the Supreme Court's somewhat tortured Apprendi jurisprudence and its application in this setting.

Notably, Chief Justice Roberts has been a consistent vote with those Justices inclined to expand Apprendirights (of which only Scalia and Thomas are still on the Court), as evidenced most clearly by his votes in Cunningham (with the majority) and Ice(with the dissent).  Meanwhile, Justice Alito has been a consistent vote with those inclined to limit Apprendi rights, as evidenced most clearly by his votes in Cunningham (with the dissent) and Ice(with the majority).  Justice Breyer and Kennedy have been consistent Apprendi haters, but maybe the doctrine will bother them less in this context.  And who knows what to expect of Justice Ginsburg in this arena in the wake of Booker and Ice.

Southern Union will present the first crisp opportunity for the two newest Justices to indicate how they view ApprendiFifth and Sixth Amendment rules.  If they both join the Roberts, Scalia, Thomas troika in Apprendi-land, Southern Union could possibly have profound long-term implications for all sorts of (financial and other) punishments beyond fines.

March 9, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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.

January 17, 2012 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sixth and Eighth Amendment cases as notable amuse-bouche for SCOTUS health care litigation

As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court has released its oral arguments calendars for its February and March sittings. Not surprisingly, the legal media is mostly talking about the court's decision to set arguments on the new federal health care law for all its sessions in the week of March 26.   And, also not surprisingly, I find interesting the fact that the Court has scheduled for oral argument its Sixth Amendment Apprendi fines case (Southern Union Co.) and its two Eighth Amendment juve LWOP cases (Miller and Jackson) in the week just prior to the health care litigation.

As the title to this post suggests, I thin these constitutional criminal law and procedure cases will provide a notable tingler for the constitutional taste buds to prepare the Justices for the health care fight to follow. In Southern Union Co., the federal government will be urging the Justices not to read the Constitution to place any more procedural burdens on its efforts to impose criminal fines, and in Miller and Jackson, two states will be urging the Justices not to read the Constitution to place any more substantive limits on what punishments they can impose on juveniles convicted of murder. In these cases, some of the more conservative Justices will surely be sympathetic to assertions that an unelected judiciary should not find new constitutional problems with duly enacted criminal laws.

But, of course, the script will be (somewhat) flipped the following week with the health care litigation. The feds, of course, will still be defending federal law against constitutional attack. But now state will be urging an unelected judiciary should to find constitutional problems with duly enacted civil laws. And, so the thinking goes, now the more conservative Justices seem likely to be sympathetic to assertions that these duly enacted laws go to far.

December 20, 2011 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lots of details on the new SCOTUS sentencing cases

Via SCOTUSblog at this post, I can provide here more information and links to key documents in the exciting new sentencing cases taken up by the Supreme Court this morning:

[T]he Court had been holding one of today’s granted petitions, Hill v. United States, to be considered alongside several other petitions that raise the same issue:  whether the Fair Sentencing Act (which reduced the crack-powder sentencing differential) applies in an initial sentencing proceeding that takes place on or after the statute’s effective date if the offense occurred before that date.... Hill has been consolidated with Dorsey v. United States (case page forthcoming), for a total of one hour of argument....

Hill v. United States (Granted)

Docket: 11-5721
Issue(s): Whether the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 applies in an initial sentencing proceeding that takes place on or after the statute’s effective date if the offense occurred before that date.

Certiorari stage documents:

 

Southern Union Company v. United States (Granted)

Docket: 11-94
Issue(s): Whether the Fifth and Sixth Amendment principles that this Court established in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and its progeny, apply to the imposition of criminal fines.

Certiorari stage documents:

Recent related posts on the new SCOTUS cases:

November 28, 2011 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SCOTUS to decide whether Apprendi applies to criminal fines via Southern Union

Sentencing fans have their SCOTUS cups running over this morning: in addition to the cert grants on a pair of cases dealing with the application of the statutory crack sentences in Dorsey and Hill (basics here), the Supreme Court also grant cert on a long-simmering Apprendi issue: namely whether standard of proof jury trial rights set forth in Apprendi and its progeny apply to the imposition of criminal fines.   This issue is to be reviewed in Southern Union Company v. United States, No. 11-94.  Wowsa!

With the juve LWOP homicide cases of Jackson and Miller to give more content to the Eighth Amendment, and now this Southern Union case to further unpack the meaning and reach of Apprendi and Blakely, the current SCOTUS Term is shaping up to be huge for sentencing fans.  Can you tell I am already giddy with anticipation?

P.S.: On the Sixth Amendment front, the Supreme Court also granted cert today on a case dealing with the application of harmless error review for the admission of hearsay statements in a case named Vasquez v. US.  I am not sure Vasquez has any likely sentencing bite, but I am sure the Justices seem interested in resolving a significant number of criminal justice issues this Term.)

November 28, 2011 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Harris test case?: Seventh Circuit affirms extraordinary sentencing factor enhancement

Among the many "quirks" in the modern Apprendi/Blakely Sixth Amendment jurisprudence from the Supreme Court is the Harris mandatory minimum exception to the rule requiring jury findings of important sentence-enhancing facts. This "quirk" in on full display in the Seventh Circuit's fascinating ruling today in US v. Krieger, No. 09-1333 (7th Cir. Dec. 7, 2010) (available here), in which a panel affirms a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence based on judicial fact-finding about the defendant's drug crime resulting in a friend's death.

The panel decision in Krieger has too many interesting and notable facets to summarize in one post.  So I will just quote from one part of the opinion which spotlights why this is a possible test case for the Supreme Court to perhaps reconsider the logic and persistence of Harris:

Krieger’s pre-sentencing report set forth a recommended sentencing range of ten to sixteen months. The government filed objections, arguing that the court should find that Curry’s death resulted from Krieger’s distribution of fentanyl, thus triggering a mandatory minimum sentence of twenty years under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C)....

On January 16, 2009, the district court issued its order, finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the fentanyl supplied by Krieger resulted in the death of Curry....  In view of the conflicting evidence as to the cause of Curry’s death, the court concluded that the government would not have been able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Krieger’s distribution of fentanyl was the cause of Curry’s death, had Krieger been charged with that offense.  The court was persuaded, however, that a preponderance of the evidence established fentanyl as the cause of Curry’s death, and concluded that “the Government has established that it is more probable than not that Ms. Krieger’s distribution of fentanyl to Ms. Curry resulted in Ms. Curry’s death.” (R. at 154, p.8).

Once the court made the finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that death resulted, it concluded that it was obligated to impose the mandatory statutory minimum under § 841(b)(1)(C) “if death results” — twenty years....

The outcome in this case highlights the critical nature of the distinction between sentencing factors and elements.  In this case, without death resulting, the maximum penalty for distributing small amounts of fentanyl would have been twenty years, with no minimum penalty. 21 U.S.C. § 841 (b)(1)(C) (“In the case of a controlled substance in schedule I or II . . . such person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than 20 years.”).  In cases where death results from the distribution, the sentence increases to a minimum of twenty years and a maximum of life in prison. Id.  Once a court makes a finding that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence, it has no choice but to impose that sentence.

December 8, 2010 in Blakely in Appellate Courts, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Monday, October 18, 2010

En banc Second Circuit rejects Apprendi challenge to NY persistent felony statute

It has been quite some time since Sixth Amendment fans have had a big, split Apprendi/Blakely opinion to chew on.  Today the Second Circuit has filled the void with a big, split en banc ruling in Portalatin v. Graham, 07-1599 (2d Cir. Oct. 18, 2010) (available here).  Here is how the majority opinion (per Judge Wesley) gets started:

Petitioners Carlos Portalatin, William Phillips, and Vance Morris were separately convicted in state court and received sentences pursuant to New York’s persistent felony offender statute, N.Y. Penal Law § 70.10.  Each petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that the New York courts engaged in an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law in affirming their sentences.  Specifically, they argue that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to an impartial jury, as construed by the Supreme Court in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and its progeny, proscribes the long-used sentencing procedure in New York that results in judicially enhanced sentences for certain recidivist offenders.

In the case of petitioner Portalatin, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York agreed, issuing a writ of habeas corpus from which the State now appeals. See Portalatin v. Graham, 478 F. Supp. 2d 385, 386 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (Gleeson, J.). In the cases of petitioners Phillips and Morris, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York separately declined to issue such writs. See Phillips v. Artus, No. 05 Civ. 7974, 2006 WL 1867386, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 30, 2006) (Crotty, J.); Morris v. Artus, No. 06 Civ. 4095, 2007 WL 2200699, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2007) (Sweet, J.). Petitioners appealed.

In a consolidated appeal, a panel of this Court concluded that New York’s persistent felony offender sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment, and that the New York courts unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent in holding otherwise, but remanded the matters to the district court for consideration of whether those errors were harmless. See Besser v. Walsh, 601 F.3d 163, 189 (2d Cir. 2010).

A majority of judges in active service then called for this rehearing en banc. The Court now holds that the state courts did not engage in an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent in affirming the convictions. Accordingly, the grant of the writ to Portalatin is reversed, and the denials of the writ to Phillips and Morris are affirmed.

Here is a key passage from the start of Judge Winter's dissent:

My colleagues rely heavily upon AEDPA deference but identify only one constitutional argument dispositive of the claims of all petitioners -- regarding the applicable maximum sentences for Apprendi purposes -- and that one has been specifically rejected by the Supreme Court in Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 270 (2009) and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004).  Except for that discussion, my colleagues’ opinion never responds directly to petitioners’ claims and proffers no other identifiable constitutional theory to which AEDPA deference can be given.

We can all be virtually certain that one or more of the losing NY defendants in this case will appeal to the US Supreme Court. Less clear is whether the current Justices are interested in another round of Apprendi/Blakely squabbling. I would not be suprised if new Justices Alito and Sotomayor have an interest in sharing their perspectives on the reach of Apprendi/Blakely, but I also would not be surprised if most of the other Justices are content to take a pass.

October 18, 2010 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Blakely in the States, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, June 14, 2010

SCOTUS confirmation that the prior conviction excpetion to Apprendi is here to stay

Sentencing and clemency guru Margaret Colgate Love wrote me today to suggest that the biggest sentencing news coming from all today's SCOTUS action (basics here) is to be found in the immigraion case Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder (available here).  In Carachuri-Rosendo, the Justices ruled that "that second or subsequent simple possession offenses are not aggravated felonies [requiring deportation] under §1101(a)(43) when, as in this case, the state conviction is not based on the fact of a prior conviction." And here is what Margaret Colgate Love had to say about why this is a notable ruling for sentencing fans:

Biggest news this morning on sentencing front is in Carachuri-Rosendo [because the] Court unanimously backs away from constitutionalizing recidivist sentencing. It reaffirms Almendarez-Torres, both on 5th and 6th A grounds and nobody says a word in defense of overruling it. Thomas concurred apparently just to let us know rather gracefully, by not mentioning A-T, that he has given up hope of Court overruling it.  (It seems that all the hype in circuits about A-T being on life support was just that.)

The Court also said that notice of intention to charge priors under 851 was not constitutionally compelled. Stevens was all business, no prose more purple than "counterintuitive and unorthodox." Though 851 has no constitutional underpinning, it is a way to limit recidivist enhancements in drug cases.  As to other types of enhancements, I thought his note 12 was very significant for ACCA and other gun recidivist enhancements, in requiring that prior must appear as part of the judgment or formal charging document (a fairly substantial expansion/clarification of Shepard).

June 14, 2010 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

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.

April 28, 2010 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

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:

February 24, 2010 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, February 22, 2010

Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be questioned in O'Brien/Burgess argument?

As detailed in this post at SCOTUSblog, on Tuesday morning the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in United States v. O'Brien and Burgess, a combined pair of cases concerning the application of the machine-gun mandatory minimum sentencing enhancement of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).  As regular readers may recall from posts here and here back when cert was granted in these cases, the Apprendi Sixth Amendment line of cases (and especially the Harris mandatory minimum exception) may be in play and at issue in these case.

After reviewing the merits briefs in O'Brien and Burgess (which are available here thanks to the ABA), my gut tells me that the Justices will be drawn to ruling for the defendants on statutory interpretation grounds, which will allow the Court to dodge all the tough constitutional questions that a ruling for the government could present.  But my gut instinct about a lot of SCOTUS sentencing issues is rarely spot-on, and I suspect that the validity of Harris might come up during Tuesday's oral argument even if the majority of Justices are inclined to resolve O'Brien and Burgess on statutory interpretation grounds.

For those eager to gear up for the O'Brien and Burgess argument by giving thought to the possibility of overruling the Harris mandatory minimum exception to the Apprendi Sixth Amendment rule, I recommend the amicus brief filed by NYU Center for the Administration of Criminal Law (with which I helped a bit). That brief makes a serious argument for now doing away with Harris mandatory minimum exception to the application of the Apprendi doctrine.

February 22, 2010 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

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:

October 19, 2009 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Friday, October 02, 2009

Should the ALI and other academics actively urge SCOTUS to reverse Harris in O'Brien?

I keep thinking about the suggestion by Professor Kevin Reitz, noted in this post, that the Harris mandatory minimum limit on the Apprendi Sixth Amendment rule might be subject to reversal in O'Brien.  And the more I think, the more I get drawn to the idea that everyone who views Harris as a serious impediment to sound modern sentencing reforms ought to be actively urging Harris to be overruled in O'Brien.  I say this because I genuinely believe that, if lots of thoughtful folks make a strong case that Harris is now harmful in light of the subsequent Blakely and Booker jurisprudence, few Justices may be eager to defend and uphold Harris

Let me unpack this instinct by first highlighting that Justice Stevens and Justice Thomas seem likely and eager to embrace calls to overrule Harris.  Both Justices have expressed interest in getting rid of undue limits on the Apprendi doctrine and neither seems too moved by stare decisis concerns in this setting.  The fact that both Justices Stevens and Thomas may be deeply interested in getting rid of Harris seems quite significant (and Justice Ginsburg has almost always voted with Justice Stevens in this line of cases).

Also significant, especially for the vote of Justice Breyer (and maybe also for Justice Kennedy), is that the subsequent Blakely and Booker rulings largely brought down what Harris sought to preserve: binding guideline systems based on judicial fact-finding.  After Blakely and Booker, the virtues of Harris are harder to see, while the vices remain on display.

In addition, the Recuenco decision declares Apprendi-Blakely errors subject to harmless error analysis.  Recuenco can and should greatly reduce the fear that overruling Harris would have all sorts of negative consequences: in the vast majority of old cases, any "O'Brien error" in the application of a mandatory minimum sentence would likely be found to be harmless.

Finally, I think all the new Justices could be moved by arguments that preserving Harris is bad for modern sentencing reform as long as Apprendi and Blakely and Booker all remain good law.  All the new Justices likely have a sense of the ugliness of modern Sixth Amendment jurisprudence and none have played a direct role in creating it.  Consequently, they might readily be drawn to suggestions that the Court would be helpful and respectful to states and officials involved in sentencing reforms if they now did away with the Harris exception to Apprendi.

Ironically, these thoughts all take me back to Professor Kevin Reitz, who is the reporter on the ALI's on-going revision of the sentencing provisions of the Model Penal Code.  If he could get the ALI and others to make the case that no sentencing code can be truly model with Harris still on the books, there may be even more than five votes to overrule Harris in O'Brien

Some related recent posts:

October 2, 2009 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Might Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?

In this post concerning the Supreme Court's grant of cert this week in US v. O'Brien, I reprinted the thoughtful notion by Kevin Reitz that the Harris mandatory minimum limit on the Apprendi might be subject to reversal in O'Brien.  But one commentor in that thread suggested that maybe the spirit might be moving the other way:

[T]he question presented in O'Brienis extremely broad.  So broad, I fear, that it could conceivably accommodate the overruling of Apprendi itself -- accommodate eliminating the constitutional distinction between elements and sentencing factors.

I have yet to see anyone raise this possibility: that Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito voted to hear O'Brienbecause they are hoping to get Sotomayor on board the plane out of Apprendi-land.

This is somewhat fanciful and paranoid speculation, to be sure. But let's not forget Citizens United. I think overruling Apprendi is no less likely an outcome than overruling Harris.

Wow, that is some wild fanciful and paranoid speculation, especially given that Chief Justice Roberts seem to have some affinity for Apprendi-land as evidenced by his votes in Cunningham and Ice.  In addition, I would be very surprised to see the Solicitor General or anyone else actively advocate overruling Apprendi anytime soon.  Moreover, Justice Stevens has said that he would like to see Harris overruled, and so I think he will likely be working harder this (last?) term to extend Apprendi and will not take kindly to any move to undo his efforts there.

That all said, all these comments usefully highlight is the unsteady and uncertain status of all aspects of the entire Apprendi-Blakely-Booker jurisprudence, and O'Brien may thus be especially important for giving us an update on all the current Justices' take on this crazy-mixed-up Sixth Amendment stuff.

October 1, 2009 in Blakely in the States, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Might the Harris limit on Apprendi be at risk with O'Brien cert grant?

Professor Kevin Reitz sent me this tantalizing e-mail in response to te Supreme Court's cert grant today in O'Brien (basics here):

U.S. v. O’Brien gives the Court the chance to reconsider Harris v. U.S., 536 U.S. 545 (2002), which held that the Apprendi rule doesn’t attach to factfinding at sentencing that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence without increasing the available maximum penalty.  It would certainly be big news if the Court were to overrule Harris.  The Solicitor General’s office doesn’t expect this to happen (otherwise they wouldn’t have filed for cert).  Counting votes, however, it’s hard to call. 

Three dissenters in Harris remain on the Court: Stevens, Thomas, and Ginsburg.   Breyer’s concurring vote in Harris was wobbly — the rationale was that he could not “yet accept” the Apprendi rule.  If “yet” has now arrived, we may have four votes to overrule Harris.   Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayor are not clearly on record.  Sotomayor might well be a 5th vote?  

Stare decisis counts for something here.  Harris reaffirmed an earlier case against a fully-developed Apprendi challenge, so a 180-degree turn in O’Brien would be dramatic.  Still, from a policy view, once Apprendi and Blakely and Booker are the law, it would be nice to eliminate Harris’s mandatory minimum end-run around those cases.

September 30, 2009 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why did Justice Stevens, the author of Apprendi, vote to Ice Sixth Amendment jury rights?

There are lots of interesting and surprising aspects to the Supreme Court's Ice ruling today, ranging from the absence of opinions from Justices Breyer and Alito (the two Justices with the most criminal justice history) to the willingness of Chief Justice Roberts to join Justice Scalia's forceful dissent.  But the biggest surprise, in my view, is the vote of Justice Stevens to reject the application (or should I say extension?) of the Apprendi-Blakely principle in the consecutive sentencing setting. 

Justice Ginsburg, as evidenced by her vote for the Booker remedy, long ago showed her concerns about taking the logic and consequences of Apprendi-Blakely too far.  But Justice Stevens had never before shown any squishiness or squeamishness about giving full effect to the Sixth Amendment jury trial rights he championed in his Apprendi and Booker opinions for the Court.  But, with Ice presenting an important opportunity to continue the "Apprendi revolution" that Justice Stevens helped start, he joins an opinion that reflects, as Justice Scalia notes, many of the arguments of the Apprendi-Blakely dissenters.

Especially notable in this context is this (gratuitous?) paragraph of important dicta in the majority opinion in Ice:

Further, it is unclear how many other state initiatives would fall under Ice’s proposed expansion of Apprendi.   As 17 States have observed in an amici brief supporting Oregon, States currently permit judges to make a varietyof sentencing determinations other than the length ofincarceration.  Trial judges often find facts about the nature of the offense or the character of the defendant in determining, for example, the length of supervised release following service of a prison sentence; required attendanceat drug rehabilitation programs or terms of community service; and the imposition of statutorily prescribed fines and orders of restitution.  See Brief for State of Indiana et al. as Amici Curiae 11.  Intruding Apprendi’s rule into these decisions on sentencing choices or accoutrements surely would cut the rule loose from its moorings.

This paragraph goes a long way to ensuring that the Sixth Amendment rights championed in the Apprendi-Blakely line of cases are not going to avail many defendants in other sentencing settings in which judges have been given broad authority to conduct fact-finding to increase sentences.  I am especially surprised that Justice Stevens was willing to allow all this this anti-Apprendi dicta carry the day in Ice.

January 14, 2009 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Some choice quotes from the two opinions in Oregon v. Ice

For reasons I will explain in future posts, the Supreme Court's work today in the Apprendi-Blakely Sixth Amendment case of Oregon v. Ice (basics here) is fascinating, surprising and ultimately disappointing.  Before I get to hard-core commentary, however, it is useful to pull out the key quotes from the two opinions.

Let's start with the majority opinion, authored by Justice Ginsburg:

The question here presented concerns a sentencing function in which the jury traditionally played no part: When a defendant has been tried and convicted of multiple offenses, each involving discrete sentencing prescriptions, does the Sixth Amendment mandate jury determination of any fact declared necessary to the imposition of consecutive, in lieu of con-current, sentences?...

[T]win considerations — historical practice and respect for state sovereignty — counsel against extending Apprendi’s rule to the imposition of sentences for discrete crimes....

[L]egislative reforms regarding the imposition of multiple sentences do not implicate the core concerns that prompted our decision in Apprendi.   There is no encroachment here by the judge upon facts historically found by the jury, nor any threat to the jury’s domain as a bulwark at trial between the State and the accused....

States’ interest in the development of their penal systems, and their historic dominion in this area, also counsel against the extension of Apprendi that Ice requests....

Members of this Court have warned against “wooden, unyielding insistence on expanding the Apprendi doctrine far beyond its necessary boundaries.”  Cunningham, 549 U. S., at 295 (Kennedy, J., dissenting). The jury-trial right is best honored through a “principled rationale” that applies the rule of the Apprendi cases “within the central sphere of their concern.” 549 U. S., at 295. Our disposition today — upholding an Oregon statute that assigns to judges a decision that has not traditionally belonged to the jury — is faithful to that aim.

Now let's hear from the dissent, per Justice Scalia:

The rule of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466 (2000), is clear:  Any fact — other than that of a prior conviction — that increases the maximum punishment towhich a defendant may be sentenced must be admitted bythe defendant or proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Oregon’s sentencing scheme allows judges ratherthan juries to find the facts necessary to commit defendants to longer prison sentences, and thus directly contradicts what we held eight years ago and have reaffirmed several times since.  The Court’s justification of Oregon’s scheme is a virtual copy of the dissents in those cases....

We have taken pains to reject artificial limitations upon the facts subject to the jury-trial guarantee....

The decision to impose consecutive sentences alters the single consequence most important to convicted noncapital defendants: their date of release from prison.  For many defendants, the difference between consecutive and concurrent sentences is more important than a jury verdict of innocence on any single count: Two consecutive 10-year sentences are in most circumstances a more severe punishment than any number of concurrent 10-year sentences.

To support its distinction-without-a-difference, the Court puts forward the same (the very same) arguments regarding the history of sentencing that were rejected by Apprendi....

The Court’s reliance upon a distinction without a difference,and its repeated exhumation of arguments dead and buried by prior cases, seems to me the epitome of the opposite [of a "principled rationale" for applying Apprendi].  Today’s opinion muddies the waters, and gives cause to doubt whether the Court is willing to stand by Apprendi’s interpretation of the Sixth Amendment’s jury-trial guarantee.

UPDATE:  On the topic of choice quotes, the post by Kent at C&C about this case has the best turn of phrase to describe the holding: "Apprendi Sprawl Frozen in Ice."

January 14, 2009 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Fascinating SCOTUS split in rejecting Blakely's application to consecutive sentencing

The Supreme Court has today handed down its latest Blakely ruling with its decision in Oregon v. Ice.  Here is the early report from SCOTUSblog:

The Court has released the opinion in Oregon v. Ice (07-901), on whether judges may impose consecutive sentences based on facts neither found by the jury nor admitted by the defendant. The ruling below, which found for the defendant, is reversed and remanded. Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Souter and Thomas. The ruling is now available here.

The break down of the Justices in the 5-4 ruling is fascinating, and I am sure I will have a lot more to say about the Court's efforts here in future posts.

I suppose I need to start my commentary, however, by taking back this recent comment that the Supreme Court is most pro-defendant appellate court in the nation on sentencing issues.  But, of course, proving again that Blakely issues make for strange voting block, three supposedly liberal Justices (Breyer, Ginsburg and Stevens) are the key to the defendant's loss in Ice.

January 14, 2009 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two very different takes on Ice

Two top-notch court watchers have two very different perspectives on what yesterday's oral argument in Oregon v. Ice might mean for the future of the Apprendi/Blakely line of Sixth Amendment cases.  Lyle Denniston, in this long post at SCOTUSblog, starts his summary of the Ice argument this way:

With Justice Stephen G. Breyer waging, seemingly alone, a rear-guard effort to limit juries' fact-finding role in determining criminal sentences, the Supreme Court on Tuesday displayed a strong inclination to stay on course in the eight-year effort to add to the jury’s power.

In sharp contrast, Kent Scheidegger, in this long post at Crime and Consequences, ends his post with this radically different assessment:

This looks pretty good for the state.  Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, both essential votes for the extension of Apprendi in Booker, seem to be reluctant to extend it this far.

My first read of the Ice transcript led me toward Lyle's assessment, but I have long given up making serious predictions about anything concerning what the Justices are going to be doing in the Apprendi/Blakely line of constitutional rulings.  However, the fact that the traditional left/right divide does not hold in this Sixth Amendment setting perhaps explains why the Court's efforts even at oral argument are hard to assess (and also explain why I find this jurisprudence so interesting).

Some related Ice posts:

October 15, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ice oral argument transcript now available

I have not yet had a chance to review the Ice oral argument transcript, but it is now available at this link.  As explained in this preview post, the Ice case has the potential to heat up or cool down lower court debates over the reach of Blakely and the limits of judicial fact-finding at sentencing.

I plan to post later on anything really significant that jumps out from the oral argument transcript.  In the meantime, readers are encouraged to use the comments to give their views on whether the Ice argument proved to be hot or cold.

UPDATE:  After a quick read of the transcript, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that the jurisprudential discussion of Apprendi and Blakely has not become more advanced and sophisticated even a full decade into this modern Sixth Amendment debate. That said, I was surprised and somewhat pleased to see pro-Sixth Amendment instincts expressed by nearly every member of the Cunningham six during the Ice argument (though Justice Thomas remained his usual quiet self).

For a variety of reasons, I have been fearful that the six Justices who continued to champion Sixth Amendment principles in the Cunningham decision dealing with California's sentencing system (who are the five Justices in the Apprendi/Blakely majorities plus Chief Justice Roberts) are not eager to keep the modern Sixth Amendment sentencing revolution marching forward.  But the transcript of the Ice argument suggested to me that Justice Breyer, who has always opposed the Apprendi/Blakely line of cases, may be the only Justice deeply and seriously concerned about the possible consequences of continued commitment to the principles of this line of cases. 

I had expected that Justices Alito and Kennedy, who were part of the dissenting block in Cunningham, would be vocal in articulating concerns about the arguments put forward by the defendant in Ice.  But Justice Alito was surprisingly quiet during argument — I do not think he asked a single question — and Justice Kennedy did not reveal any deep continuing hostility to Apprendi principles.  I am now starting to wonder if every member of the current Court, save Justice Breyer, is ready to have their ticket stamped to Apprendi-land.  If so, and especially if Ice ruling ends up reflecting this new reality in bold terms, it could end up being a sleeper case this Term.

October 14, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, October 13, 2008

The little Ice case that could (but probably won't)...

Enginebe a major Sixth Amendment ruling.  As detailed here at SCOTUSblog, Tuesday afternoon the Supreme Court will hear argument in Oregon v. Ice, which explores whether the Apprendi/Blakely rule limiting judicial fact-finding at sentencing extends to determinations required under state law for the imposition of consecutive sentences.  I did a preview of this case for the ABA, which can be downloaded below.  Here is a snippet of my analysis from that preview:

Continued uncertainty about what the current Justices now think about the Sixth Amendment rule championed in Apprendi and Blakely increases the uncertainty over whether the Court’s decision in Ice will be bold and significant.  If a group of five or more Justices remains eager to limit certain judicial fact-finding at sentencing, the Court could produce a broad and consequential decision that not only favors the defendant, but also suggests that lower courts should be applying the Sixth Amendment in an array of new sentencing settings.  Conversely, if a group of five or more Justices is now eager to remove remaining constitutional uncertainty about what Blakely means for various forms of judicial fact-finding at sentencing, the Court could produce a broad and consequential decision that not only favors the state but also suggests that lower courts should not be too concerned about Sixth Amendment rights in various sentencing settings.

Tellingly, the Supreme Court has not taken up many post-Blakely issues in recent years, even though lower courts have frequently turned back arguments by defendants and defense counsels to apply and expand Blakely’s reach in a variety of new sentencing settings.  This reality perhaps suggests that the Court may be more inclined to limit than to expand the reach of Blakely in this case....

Because Chief Justice Roberts has publicly suggested he favors narrow constitutional rulings that produce more consensus than dissension within the Court, one might expect a relatively narrow ruling in Ice garnering the votes of most or all Justices.  The specific consecutive/concurrent sentencing issue in Ice could be resolved on relatively narrow grounds without requiring the Court to significantly expand or significantly limit the reach of the Sixth Amendment.  But, then again, one hallmark of the Apprendi and Blakely line of cases has been unpredictability.  Ice could be a sleeper case if a group of Justices prove eager to use the opinion in this case as an opportunity to champion again the importance of the jury in modern criminal justice settings.

Download aba_preview_of_ice.pdf

October 13, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, March 17, 2008

More on the cool Ice grant and consecutive sentencing Blakely issue

In the weeks and months ahead, I will surely blog a lot about the many interesting aspects of the consecutive sentencing Blakely issue that SCOTUS has now taken up in the new Ice case from Oregon (basics here).  For now, i will be content to link to this post at SCOTUSblog which has all the Ice cert papers and also to some of my prior posts on this issue.  (I must note that, when posting here about the Oregon Supreme Court decision last October, I commented that "the case might be viewed as quite cert worthy if Oregon decides to appeal Ice to the US Supreme Court."

A few prior posts on Apprendi/Blakely and consecutive sentencing (with post date):

March 17, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

SCOTUS taking up Apprendi/Blakely consecutive sentencing issue

I am pleased to report that this morning the Supreme Court has announced that it is taking up another important Apprendi/Blakely issue.  From today's SCOTUS order list (which also includes a few Gall and Kimbrough remands), here is the basic story:

07-901 OREGON V. ICE, THOMAS E.

The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: Whether the Sixth Amendment, as construed in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), requires that facts (other than prior convictions) necessary to imposing consecutive sentences be found by the jury or admitted by the defendant.

Sing it with me, Blakely fans: Ice, Ice Baby.  Here's a bit of fractured lyrics sampling from the original to celebrate the SCOTUS litigation occasion:

Yo, Justices, Let's kick it!

Ice Ice Baby, Ice Ice Baby

All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with a new Blakely invention
Sentencing grabs a hold of me tightly
Flow like a Justice daily and nightly
Will it ever stop? Yo I don't know...

If there is a problem, Yo, we'll solve it
Check out the issue while Berman revolves it

Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Apprendi
Ice Ice Baby Vanilla, Ice Ice Baby Apprendi

March 17, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bumming over cert denied

Though I am still looking forward to a big SCOTUS sentencing term, I am definitely bumming that at the top of today's huge list of cert denials is Faulks v. US.  Faulks is the case from the Fourth Circuit concerning the procedures for revoking supervised release in which I helped develop a petition raising Blakely issues (details here and here).

When time permits, I hope to flag some other notable cert denials, though perhaps reads can help by mentioning other denials of sentencing interest in the comments.  Ultimately, the Faulks denial is another reminder that, even with all the sentencing action this term, there are no shortage of additional (Blakely and non-Blakely) issues that I wish the Justices would tackle ASAP.

UPDATE:  In the comments, Peter G. rightly note the notable absence of Rita GVR's.  Here's Peter's reaction to this Rita dog not barking: "I infer that the Court is washing its hands (and modeling to the courts of appeals to wash their collective hands) of 'substantive unreasonableness' challenges to post-Booker Guidelines and below-Guidelines sentences."

Also in the comments is a query about the status of "Jeff Fisher's ACCA/juvenile adjudication case out of Washington."  I believe that case was Sasouvong v. Washington (discussed here), and it also suffered the one-line fate of "cert denied."

October 1, 2007 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack