U.S. Supreme Court
Criminal Procedure — right to jury — mandatory minimums
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.
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.
457 Fed.Appx. 348, vacated and remanded.
Thomas, J.; Sotomayor, J., concurring; Breyer, J., concurring; Roberts, C.J., dissenting; Alito, J., dissenting.