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Court: Jury must approve fact extending sentence

June 17, 2013 at 12:34 PM

WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- An unusual U.S. Supreme Court coalition ruled 5-4 Monday any alleged fact that would extend a sentence must be presented to the jury.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by the court's four liberals, wrote the majority opinion.

In 2013, Allen Alleyne was charged in Richmond, Va., with using a firearm in the commission of a crime. A state judge ruled that his accomplice brandished a gun during the commission of a robbery.

Federal law carries a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence, and a provision increases that to a 7-year minimum "if the firearm is brandished," while another increases that to a 10-year minimum "if the firearm is discharged."

A jury found Alleyne guilty, but said he did not brandish a firearm. However, a pre-sentence report recommended a 7-year term.

Alleyne's lawyers argued the jury did not find a firearm had been brandished by the defendant, and the extended sentence violated his right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment.

The federal judge overruled the objection, citing Supreme Court precedent that judicial fact-finding that increases a sentence is constitutional, and an appeals court agreed.

But Thomas' opinion threw out the lower courts' rulings, and sent the case back down for a rehearing.

"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," Thomas said.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, was among the dissenters (Justice Samuel Alito dissented separately).

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