U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Juries Must Find Facts That Increase Mandatory Minimum Sentences

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Hope Lefeber, the leading federal criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, discusses a current U.S. Supreme Court case, Alleyne v. United States. Any fact that increases the statutory mandatory minimum sentence in a criminal case must be submitted to and decided by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hope Lefeber

It is indisputable that a fact triggering a mandatory minimum alters the prescribed range of sentences to which a criminal defendant is exposed.

Hope Lefeber, the leading federal criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, discusses a current U.S. Supreme Court case, Alleyne v. United States.

The United States Supreme Court has decided in Alleyne v. United States, __S. Ct.__ (June 17, 2013), 2013 WL 2922116, that the Sixth Amendment in conjunction with the Due Process Clause require that any fact that increases the mandatory minimum sentence is an “element of the crime” and must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.

According to court documents, Alleyne was charged with using or carrying a firearm in relation in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(1)(A),which carries a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence, Section 924(c)(1)(A)(i), that increases to a 7 year minimum “if the firearm is brandished,” Section 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), and to a 10 year minimum “if the firearm is discharge,” Section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii). Although the verdict sheet used by the jury indicated that Alleyne had “used or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence,” the form did not indicate any finding that the defendant had “brandished” the firearm. The act of “brandishing” was the fact that increased the mandatory minimum to which the defendant was subject.

Justice THOMAS announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court in which Justices GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR and KAGAN joined. Chief Justice ROBERTS dissented and was joined by Justices SCALIA and KENNEDY.

The Supreme Court, in Alleyne, held that “…facts increasing the legally prescribed floor aggravate the punishment.” Ibid., at 9. As such, the Court held: “[e]levating the low-end of a sentencing range heightens the loss of liberty associated with the crime; the defendant’s ‘expected punishment has increased as a result of the narrowed range’ and ‘the prosecution is empowered, by invoking the mandatory minimum, to require the judge to impose a higher punishment than he might wish.’” Alleyne, Ibid.

Lefeber states, "This decision by the Supreme Court is extraordinarily significant in many respects. Statutory mandatory minimums are a critical factor in sentencing. The threat of increased statutory minimums, which in the past have been within judicial discretion, based upon a preponderance of the evidence standard, has, until now, been both a tool used by the prosecution to obtain guilty pleas and has been the basis for the imposition of higher mandatory minimum sentences. Now, the facts supporting the mandatory minimums will have to be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The effect of the Alleyne decision on guilty pleas remains to be determined. Similarly, it is not yet been decided whether Alleyne will apply retroactively to defendants who were convicted prior to this decision."

About Philadelphia Attorney Hope Lefeber:
Hope C. Lefeber is a practicing federal criminal defense attorney and a member of Federal Bar Association. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University School of Law, and is a member of the Federal Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and numerous other criminal defense groups. Ms. Lefeber has represented high-profile clients, published numerous articles, lectured on federal criminal law issues, taught Continuing Legal Education classes to other Philadelphia Criminal lawyers and has appeared on TV News as a legal expert.. Ms. Lefeber specializes in white collar crimes, drug crimes and appeals and is the Managing Member of her Philadelphia-based law firm, Hope C. Lefeber, LLC.

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