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September 1, 2011

Different results as Eighth and Ninth Circuits consider different Apprendi claims

In recent years, juicy cases raising Sixth Amendment Apprendi cases seem (too?) infrequent.  But today, both the Eighth Circuit and the Ninth Circuit handed down decisions involving Apprendi issues.  as the opening paragraphs reprinted below review (and as might be predicted by those knowing the Circuits' tendencies), the defendant in the Eighth Circuit lost and the defendant in the Ninth Circuit prevailed.

US v. Brown, No. 10-2747 (8th Cir. Sept. 1, 2011) (available here),  gets started this way: 

On Easter Sunday evening, fourteen-year-old Justin Timbear May (Timbear) was stabbed to death outside a home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. A short time later, two other boys, FJW and CJH, were stabbed outside a nearby home. After a four-day trial, a jury convicted Patricia Brown of second-degree murder for the stabbing of Timbear, and of assault with a dangerous weapon for the stabbing of FJW, in Indian country.  See 18 U.S.C. §§ 113(a)(3), 1111, 1153.  The jury acquitted Brown of assaulting CJH. The district court imposed concurrent sentences of thirty years for the murder and ten years for the assault with a dangerous weapon.  Brown appeals, arguing the court erred in imposing mandatory minimum sentences under 18 U.S.C. § 3559(f) because age is an element of the offense that must be found by the jury, and in denying her motions to suppress evidence and to sever counts of the indictment for trial. We affirm.

US v. Hunt, No. 09-30334 (9th Cir. Sept. 1, 2011) (available here), gets started this way:

The district court sentenced Appellant Stacy Hunt to 180 months in prison after he pled guilty to attempting to possess a controlled substance with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 846.  Hunt appeals his sentence but not his conviction. He alleges that the district court erred under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), by sentencing him for attempted possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of cocaine even though he never admitted that he attempted to possess cocaine. We conclude that the district court erred under Apprendi and that the error was not harmless. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for resentencing.

September 1, 2011 at 05:21 PM | Permalink


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It seems the 8th Circuit rarely meets a government argument they don't drool over. Too many former prosecutors on the Court and not one ever represented a defendant in federal court.

Posted by: Steve Prof | Sep 1, 2011 7:15:29 PM

   I see too many differences in the specifics of these two decisions to make a compelling argument for or against the leanings of the Circuits involved. Apprendi requires that any factors contained within the elements of the criminal statute charged, which lend to upward variance beyond the statutory maximum, must be proven to a jury.

   In US v. Brown, the appellant claims that the mandatory sentence imposed under §3559(f) cannot be so imposed without proving the age element of her victim to a jury. As this statute, as found by the Eighth Circuit, is only applicable for sentencing, such elements inside it are not elements of the crime and don't require proof to a jury for consideration.

   Conversely, in US v. Hunt, the government used factors to enhance the appellant's sentence beyond the statutory maximum that were crucial to the crime of conviction. Hunt was very slick in his dealings with the government during his plea colloquy. While I might not like how this was done, he nevertheless did not admit to drug quantity or even type during plea hearing. Therefore, that element couldn't be used to sentence beyond the statutory maximum even with a plea because the fact was never proven or conceded by the defendant.

“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.” Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490.

   Brown's argument against a sentencing factor failed under Apprendi because the issue at hand was a sentencing factor, not an element of the crime. Hunt, however, was sentenced beyond the statutory maximum because of an element of the crime that was never admitted to via plea. I agree with the rational of both Circuit Courts, which admittedly, is rare.

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Sep 2, 2011 12:01:26 AM

personaly i think this statement if TRUE should invalidate the entire court!

" not one ever represented a defendant in federal court"

the court is supposed to be ballanced and unbiased....kind of IMPOSSIBLE to be that when ONLY ONE SIDE is represented!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 2, 2011 9:10:33 PM

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