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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013).

July 03, 2013

Defendant was convicted in federal district court of using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.  During sentencing, defendant objected to the sentencing report that recommended a 7-year sentence, incorporating the longer minimum sentence mandated if the firearm was brandished during the crime.  Defendant argued that increasing the mandatory minimum to seven years would violate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because it was clear from the jury verdict that the jury did not make the finding of fact that he brandished the weapon and therefore any increase would be improperly based on the judge’s finding of fact.  The district court overruled defendant’s objection, and the court of appeals affirmed on the basis that United States v. Harris, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), foreclosed defendant’s claim.  In Harris, the Court addressed the same question involving the same statutory provision as presented in the case at bar, and the Court refused to apply its holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), to require jury trial for facts that increase the mandatory minimum but not the maximum sentence.  But this time the United States Supreme Court agreed with defendant and held that Harris was wrongly decided.  In so ruling, the Court reasoned that a fact triggering a mandatory minimum alters the prescribed range of sentences to which a defendant is exposed, and that it is impossible to dispute that facts increasing the legally prescribed floor aggravate the punishment.  The Court noted that defining facts that increase a mandatory minimum as an element of the substantive offense enables defendant to predict the legally applicable penalty from the face of the indictment.  The Court cautioned that this holding does not mean that any fact that influences judicial discretion must be found by the jury; when fashioning a sentence, judges may continue to exercise their discretion to consider factors in aggravation or mitigation that are not covered by the allegations in the indictment.  The Court explained that establishing the range of punishment that is available by law (jury’s function) is different from setting a specific punishment within that range (judge’s function).  The Court vacated the court of appeal’s judgment and remanded to the district court for resentencing consistent with the jury verdict.