Apprendi v. New Jersey,
530 U.S. 466 (2000)

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No. 99-478. Argued March 28, 2000-Decided June 26, 2000

Petitioner Apprendi fired several shots into the home of an MricanAmerican family and made a statement-which he later retracted-that he did not want the family in his neighborhood because of their race. He was charged under New Jersey law with, inter alia, second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, which carries a prison term of 5 to lO years. The count did not refer to the State's hate crime statute, which provides for an enhanced sentence if a trial judge finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant committed the crime with a purpose to intimidate a person or group because of, inter alia, race. After Apprendi pleaded guilty, the prosecutor filed a motion to enhance the sentence. The court found by a preponderance of the evidence that the shooting was racially motivated and sentenced Apprendi to a 12-year term on the firearms count. In upholding the sentence, the appeals court rejected Apprendi's claim that the Due Process Clause requires that a bias finding be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The State Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: The Constitution requires that any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum, other than the fact of a prior conviction, must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Pp.474-497.

(a) The answer to the narrow constitutional question presentedwhether Apprendi's sentence was permissible, given that it exceeds the lO-year maximum for the offense charged-was foreshadowed by the holding in Jones v. United States, 526 U. S. 227, that, with regard to federal law, the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Sixth Amendment's notice and jury trial guarantees require that any fact other than prior conviction that increases the maximum penalty for a crime must be charged in an indictment, submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Fourteenth Amendment commands the same answer when a state statute is involved. Pp.474-476.

(b) The Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, taken together, entitle a criminal defendant to a jury determination that he is guilty of every element of the crime with which he is charged, beyond a reasonable doubt. E. g., In re Winship, 397 U. S. 358, 364. The historical foundation for these principles extends down centuries into the common law. While


judges in this country have long exercised discretion in sentencing, such discretion is bound by the range of sentencing options prescribed by the legislature. See, e. g., United States v. Tucker, 404 U. S. 443, 447. The historic inseparability of verdict and judgment and the consistent limitation on judges' discretion highlight the novelty of a scheme that removes the jury from the determination of a fact that exposes the defendant to a penalty exceeding the maximum he could receive if punished according to the facts reflected in the jury verdict alone. Pp.476-485.

(c) McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U. S. 79, was the first case in which the Court used "sentencing factor" to refer to a fact that was not found by the jury but could affect the sentence imposed by the judge. In finding that the scheme at issue there did not run afoul of Winship's strictures, this Court did not budge from the position that (1) constitutional limits exist to States' authority to define away facts necessary to constitute a criminal offense, 477 U. S., at 85-88, and (2) a state scheme that keeps from the jury facts exposing defendants to greater or additional punishment may raise serious constitutional concerns, id., at 88. Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U. S. 224-in which the Court upheld a federal law allowing a judge to impose an enhanced sentence based on prior convictions not alleged in the indictment-represents at best an exceptional departure from the historic practice. Pp. 485-490.

(d) In light of the constitutional rule expressed here, New Jersey's practice cannot stand. It allows a jury to convict a defendant of a second-degree offense on its finding beyond a reasonable doubt and then allows a judge to impose punishment identical to that New Jersey provides for first-degree crimes on his finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's purpose was to intimidate his victim based on the victim's particular characteristic. The State's argument that the biased purpose finding is not an "element" of a distinct hate crime offense but a "sentencing factor" of motive is nothing more than a disagreement with the rule applied in this case. Beyond this, the argument cannot succeed on its own terms. It does not matter how the required finding is labeled, but whether it exposes the defendant to a greater punishment than that authorized by the jury's verdict, as does the sentencing "enhancement" here. The degree of culpability the legislature associates with factually distinct conduct has significant implications both for a defendant's liberty and for the heightened stigma associated with an offense the legislature has selected as worthy of greater punishment. That the State placed the enhancer within the criminal code's sentencing provisions does not mean that it is not an essential element of the offense. Pp.491-497.

159 N. J. 7,731 A. 2d 485, reversed and remanded.

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

Criminal sentences cannot be enhanced above the limits provided by statute unless the jury finds the existence of the specific aggravating factors giving rise to the enhancement beyond a reasonable doubt.


Charles Apprendi, Jr. fired shots into the home of an African-American family in his neighborhood, admittedly because of their race and because he did not want to have African-Americans in his neighborhood. He pleaded guilty to a group of charges, each of which would have resulted in a sentence of five to 10 years. These terms would be doubled if the prosecution succeeded in imposing an enhanced sentence because a hate crime was involved. While the prosecution preserved its right to seek such an enhancement, Apprendi preserved his right to appeal the application of the enhancement on constitutional grounds.

Using a preponderance of the evidence standard, the trial judge found that Apprendi's actions were the result of racial bias and thus that the hate crime enhancement was appropriate. (Testimony was presented by Apprendi and defense psychologists to challenge that interpretation and argue that he committed the crimes because he was drunk, but the judge believed the policeman's story that the crimes were committed because of anti-African-American sentiment.) Apprendi received a 12-year sentence once the judge added two years to the maximum sentence because of the hate crimes enhancement.

State courts found that the enhancement was appropriate because it was defined as a sentencing factor rather than an element of the crime.

Procedural History

New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division - Published Opinions - 698 A.2d 1265 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1997)

Affirmed. The judge did not err in extending the defendant's sentence based on the enhancement because it is merely a sentencing factor, so a jury trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are not required.

Supreme Court of New Jersey - 731 A.2d 485 (N.J. 1999)

Affirmed. Proof by a preponderance of the evidence is acceptable for an enhancement, since it is not an element of the crime.


  • Charles Coant (defendant)
  • Joseph O'Neill (defendant)



  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • Antonin Scalia
  • David H. Souter
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The majority examined a range of precedents in finding that any enhancement that raises the penalty of a crime above the statutory maximum sentence must be considered by a jury and proved by a reasonable doubt rather than evaluated by a judge according to a lower standard of proof. The Justices viewed the hate crime enhancement as an additional penalty, almost as though it were a separate crime with a separate sentence. They relied on historical analysis that suggested that there was little or no difference between an element of a crime and a sentencing factor, since traditionally judges had little discretion in determining sentences.

The emergence of sentencing factors as a concept emerged in the 1980s to describe facts that limited the range of the potential sentence but did not increase the maximum sentence. The majority found that this was the critical distinction separating other sentencing factors from the enhancement in this case, especially since the enhancement was completely separate from the elements of the underlying crime. Moreover, the hate crime enhancement concerns the intent of the defendant, which is usually an element of a crime that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court did carve out an apparent exception for sentencing enhancements that increased the maximum sentence based on prior convictions, since the elements of the crimes giving rise to those convictions had been proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.


  • Clarence Thomas (Author)
  • Antonin Scalia

Thomas would have gone further than the majority in declining to carve out an exception for enhancements based on prior convictions. Basing his argument on an originalist understanding of the right to a jury, he departed from his opinion in the previous decision of Almendarez-Torres v. United States, in which he supported the exception.


  • Antonin Scalia (Author)


  • Sandra Day O'Connor (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • Stephen G. Breyer

Diverging from the majority's reliance on distant history, O'Connor also argued that plenty of recent precedents countered the apparent theme described by the majority. For example, the Court had found that no jury trial was needed to establish the aggravating factors needed to impose a death sentence in Arizona. She correctly predicted that the majority's decision would undermine the federal sentencing scheme on constitutional grounds.


  • Stephen G. Breyer (Author)

Taking a pragmatic perspective, Breyer pointed out that each sentencing process is unique, and it would be impossible for a jury to have control over every factor going into it. He felt that it would be inappropriate to subject each defendant convicted of a certain crime to the same sentence, since the harm caused by their conduct could vary widely. He also echoed O'Connor's concern that the majority's decision would threaten the legitimacy of the federal sentencing guidelines, which he would address in the majority opinion for United States v. Booker.

Case Commentary

This decision shows that there is a limit to the broad discretion that judges have in sentencing criminal defendants. While they can consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances, this can affect their calibration of a sentence only within the statutory range. Otherwise, an aggravating factor essentially becomes an element of the crime that needs to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the later decision of Southern Union Co. v. United States, the Court ruled that factors leading to the imposition of fines above the usual maximum also required submission to a jury. It thus extended the holding in Apprendi from imprisonment to monetary penalties.

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