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Apprendi and Mandatory Minimums

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Under the Apprendi rule, a finding of fact that increases the maximum punishment a defendant may receive must be found by a jury, unless the defendant waives jury trial, and must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

How about a fact that increases the minimum punishment a defendant must receive?  The Supreme Court previously said no, but today it took up the case of Alleyne v. United States, No. 11-9935, to reconsider.  In its unpublished memorandum in this case, the Fourth Circuit held:
Alleyne's final appellate argument is that the district court erred by holding him responsible at sentencing for brandishing a firearm. The court's finding elevated Alleyne's mandatory minimum sentence for the firearm conviction from five years to seven years pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 924(c). We review a district court's factual findings at sentencing for clear error. United States v. Pauley, 289 F.3d 254, 258 (4th Cir. 2002).

We first note, as Alleyne has conceded, that Supreme Court precedent forecloses any argument that Alleyne's constitutional rights were violated by the district court's finding that he was accountable for brandishing the firearm despite the jury's finding that he was not guilty of that offense. Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 556 (2002). We do not find the district court's finding otherwise clearly erroneous.

1 Comment

I think Apprendi is right and unimpeachably so. But the theory here puzzles--I don't see how the Constitution limits a legislature from setting forth mandatory minimums where judges find certain facts. Let's say that you have a generalized sexual assault statute that says 10 years in prison max, and if judges have the right, within that 10 years to assign whatever sentence they choose based on the facts they find, then what is the issue with a judge not being able to exercise lenience under a certain minimum amount when certain facts are found by that judge?

The issue cannot be judicial fact-finding because sentencing within a range is based precisely on judicial fact-finding/impressions of the case etc. And the issue cannot be limiting the role of the jury because a judge can already sentence to the max anyway.

I think this is yet another attempt by the Justices to shape the criminal justice system to suit their fancy.

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