Alleyne v. United States
570 U.S. ___ (2013)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Alleyne was convicted using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), which carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. The sentences increases to a seven-year minimum if the firearm is brandished, 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and to a 10-year minimum if it is discharged, 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). The jury form indicated that Alleyne had “[u]sed or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” but not that the firearm was “[b]randished.” Alleyne objected to a sentencing report recommendation of a seven-year term, arguing that the jury did not find brandishing beyond a reasonable doubt and that raising his mandatory minimum sentence based on a judge’s finding of brandishing would violate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The district court overruled the objection. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, overruling Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 and applying Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466. Mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime and any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an "element" that must be submitted to the jury. Defining facts that increase a mandatory minimum as part of the substantive offense enables a defendant to predict the applicable penalty from the face of the indictment and preserves the jury’s role as intermediary between the state and criminal defendants. Because the fact of brandishing aggravates the prescribed range of allowable sentences, it constitutes an element of a separate, aggravated offense that must be found by the jury, regardless of what sentence the defendant might have received had a different range been applicable. The Court noted that its ruling does not mean that any fact that influences judicial discretion must be found by a jury.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

ALLEYNE v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 11–9335. Argued January 14, 2013—Decided June 17, 2013

Petitioner Alleyne was charged, as relevant here, with using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U. S. C. §924(c)(1)(A), which carries a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, §924(c)(1)(A)(i), that increases to a 7-year minimum “if the firearm is brandished,” §924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and to a 10-year minimum “if the firearm is discharged,” §924(c)(1)(A)(iii). In convicting Alleyne, the jury form indicated that he had “[u]sed or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” but not that the firearm was “[b]randished.” When the presentence report recommended a 7-year sentence on the §924(c) count, Alleyne objected, arguing that the verdict form clearly indicated that the jury did not find brandishing beyond a reasonable doubt and that raising his mandatory minimum sentence based on a sentencing judge’s finding of brandishing would violate his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The District Court overruled his objection, relying on this Court’s holding in Harris v. United States, 536 U. S. 545 , that judicial factfinding that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime is permissible under the Sixth Amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Alleyne’s objection was foreclosed by Harris.

Held: The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded. Pp. 10–17.

457 Fed. Appx. 348, vacated and remanded.

     Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III–B, III–C, and IV, concluding:

     1. Because mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime, any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an “element” that must be submitted to the jury. Accordingly, Harris is overruled. Pp. 10–16.

          (a) Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466 , concluded that any “ ‘facts that increase the prescribed range of penalties to which a criminal defendant is exposed’ ” are elements of the crime, id., at 490, and thus the Sixth Amendment provides defendants with the right to have a jury find those facts beyond a reasonable doubt, id., at 484. Apprendi’s principle applies with equal force to facts increasing the mandatory minimum, for a fact triggering a mandatory minimum alters the prescribed range of sentences to which a criminal defendant is exposed. Id., at 490. Because the legally prescribed range is the penalty affixed to the crime, it follows that a fact increasing either end of the range produces a new penalty and constitutes an ingredient of the offense. It is impossible to dissociate the floor of a sentencing range from the penalty affixed to the crime. The fact that criminal statutes have long specified both the floor and ceiling of sentence ranges is evidence that both define the legally prescribed penalty. It is also impossible to dispute that the facts increasing the legally prescribed floor aggravate the punishment, heightening the loss of liberty associated with the crime. Defining facts that increase a mandatory minimum to be part of the substantive offense enables the defendant to predict the legally applicable penalty from the face of the indictment, see id., at 478–479, and preserves the jury’s historic role as an intermediary between the State and criminal defendants, see United States v. Gaudin, 515 U. S. 506 –511. In reaching a contrary conclusion, Harris relied on the fact that the 7-year minimum sentence could have been imposed with or without a judicial finding of brandishing, because the jury’s finding authorized a sentence of five years to life, 536 U. S., at 561, but that fact is beside the point. The essential Sixth Amendment inquiry is whether a fact is an element of the crime. Because the fact of brandishing aggravates the legally prescribed range of allowable sentences, it constitutes an element of a separate, aggravated offense that must be found by the jury, regardless of what sentence the defendant might have received had a different range been applicable. There is no basis in principle or logic to distinguish facts that raise the maximum from those that increase the minimum. Pp. 10–15.

          (b) This ruling does not mean that any fact that influences judicial discretion must be found by a jury. This Court has long recognized that broad sentencing discretion, informed by judicial factfinding, does not violate the Sixth Amendment. See, e.g., Dillon v. United States, 560 U. S. ___, ___. Pp. 15–16.

     2. Here, the sentencing range supported by the jury’s verdict was five years’ imprisonment to life, but the judge, rather than the jury, found brandishing. This increased the penalty to which Alleyne was subjected and violated his Sixth Amendment rights. Pp. 16–17.

     Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan, concluded in Parts II and III–A:

     1. The Sixth Amendment right to trial “by an impartial jury,” in conjunction with the Due Process Clause, requires that each element of a crime be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Gaudin, 515 U. S., at 510. Several divided opinions of this Court have addressed the constitutional status of a “sentencing factor.” In McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U. S. 79 , the Court held that facts found to increase a mandatory minimum sentence are sentencing factors that a judge could find by a preponderance of the evidence. In Apprendi, however, the Court declined to extend McMillan to a New Jersey statute that increased the maximum term of imprisonment if the trial judge found that the crime was committed with racial bias, 530 U. S., at 470, finding that any fact that increased the prescribed statutory maximum sentence must be an “element” of the offense to be found by the jury. Id., at 483, n. 10, 490. Two years later in Harris, the Court declined to apply Apprendi to facts that increased the mandatory minimum sentence but not the maximum sentence. 536 U. S., at 557. Pp. 3–6.

     2. The touchstone for determining whether a fact must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is whether the fact constitutes an “element” of the charged offense. United States v. O’Brien, 560 U. S. 218 , ___. Apprendi’s definition necessarily includes not only facts that increase the ceiling, but also those that increase the floor. At common law, the relationship between crime and punishment was clear. A sentence was prescribed for each offense, leaving judges with little sentencing discretion. If a fact was by law essential to the penalty, it was an element of the offense. There was a well-established practice of including in the indictment, and submitting to the jury, every fact that was a basis for imposing or increasing punishment. And this understanding was reflected in contemporaneous court decisions and treatises. Pp. 6–10.

     Justice Breyer, agreeing that Harris v. United States, 536 U. S. 545 , should be overruled, concluded that he continues to disagree with Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466 , because it fails to recognize the law’s traditional distinction between elements of a crime and sentencing facts, but finds it highly anomalous to read Apprendi as insisting that juries find sentencing facts that permit a judge to impose a higher sentence while not insisting that juries find sentencing facts that require a judge to impose a higher sentence. Overruling Harris and applying Apprendi’s basic jury-determination rule to mandatory minimum sentences would erase that anomaly. Where a maximum sentence is at issue, Apprendi means that a judge who wishes to impose a higher sentence cannot do so unless a jury finds the requisite statutory factual predicate. Where a mandatory minimum sentence is at issue, Apprendi would mean that the government cannot force a judge who does not wish to impose a higher sentence to do so unless a jury finds the requisite statutory factual predicate. Pp. 1–3.

     Thomas, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III–B, III–C, and IV, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and III–A, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring in opinion, in which Ginsburg and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Roberts, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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