US Supreme Court: Right to jury trial for parole violation that results in a mandatory minimum

United States v. Haymond (2019) ___U.S.___ [139 S.Ct. 2369], 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4398; No. 17-1672

Supreme Court of the United States,, Decided June 26, 2019. 

Imposition of a new and higher mandatory prison term for a parole violation requires jury trial

After serving a prison sentence of 38 months for possession of child pornography-a crime that carries a prison term of zero to 10 years, and while on supervised release, Mr. Haymond was again found with what appeared to be child pornography. The government sought to revoke his supervised release and impose an additional prison sentence. A district judge, acting without a jury, found by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Haymond knowingly downloaded and possessed child pornography.

Under 18 U. S. C. §3583(e)(3), the judge could have sentenced him to a prison term of between zero and two additional years. But because possession of child pornography is an enumerated offense under §3583(k), the judge instead imposed that provision’s 5-year mandatory minimum.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit observed that whereas a jury had convicted Mr. Haymond beyond a reasonable doubt of a crime carrying a prison term of zero to 10 years, this new prison term included a new and higher mandatory minimum resting on facts found only by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence. The Tenth Circuit held that §3583(k) violated the right to trial by jury guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan, concluded that the application of §3583(k) in this case violated Mr. Haymond’s right to trial by jury. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment

A jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt every fact which the law makes essential to a punishment

A judge’s sentencing authority derives from, and is limited by, the jury’s factual findings of criminal conduct. A jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt every fact “‘which the law makes essential to [a] punishment’” that a judge might later seek to impose. Blakely v. Washington, 542 U. S. 296

The Supreme Court held unconstitutional a sentencing scheme that allowed a judge to increase a defendant’s sentence beyond the statutory maximum based on the judge’s finding of new facts by a preponderance of the evidence (Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466).  The Court held that Apprendi’s principle “applies with equal force to facts increasing the mandatory minimum” (Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. 99).

Applying Apprendi and Alleyne to a parole violation with a mandatory minimum sentence

Mr. Haymond faced a lawful prison term of between zero and 10 years. As in defendant’s sentencing hearing in Alleyne, the facts the judge found here increased “the legally prescribed range of allowable sentences” in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

A mandatory minimum 5-year sentence that comes into play only as a result of additional judicial factual findings by a preponderance of the evidence is unconstitutional. Unlike traditional parole and probation violations which expose a defendant only to the remaining prison term authorized for his crime of conviction, §3583(k) exposes a defendant to an additional mandatory minimum prison term beyond that authorized by the jury’s verdict—all based on facts found by a judge by a mere preponderance of the evidence.

Only a jury-with proof beyond a reasonable doubt-may take a person’s liberty

Only a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person’s liberty creating a vital protection against arbitrary government actions.  Here, a congressional statute compelled a federal judge to send a man to prison for a minimum of five years without a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court held the statute violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Because Mr. Haymond had committed an offense covered by §3583(k), the judge felt bound to impose an additional prison term of at least five years. But the judge found it “‘repugnant’” that a statute might impose a new and additional “mandatory five-year” punishment without those traditional protections. Were it not for §3583(k)’s mandatory minimum, the judge added, he “probably would have sentenced in the range of two years or less.”

The imposition of the additional prison term in this case exemplified the “Framers’ fears that the jury right could be lost not only by gross denial, but by erosion” (Apprendi, 530 U. S., at 483).