United States v. Haymond: Federal statute imposing mandatory minimum sentence for violating supervised release violates Fifth and Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial
The federal statute that requires a judge to impose a mandatory minimum five-year term and up to life in prison for certain violations of supervised release, such as possession of child pornography, violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, the Supreme Court ruled June 26 in United States v. Haymond.
A concurring justice and four dissenters warned that the ruling could bring an end to supervised release revocation proceedings held only before a judge.
Andre Haymond was convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to a 38 month prison term, followed by 10 years of supervised release.
After he was released, the Government sought to revoke his supervised release on grounds that he again possessed child pornography. The district judge, acting without a jury, and under a preponderance of evidence standard rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, found that Haymond possessed child pornography.
Usually, a district judge who finds a violation of supervised release can only impose a sentence up to the maximum period of supervised release authorized by statute for the defendant’s original crime, with certain exceptions.
But 18 U.S.C. §3583(k) requires that if a defendant commits certain offenses while on supervised release, a judge must impose a minimum five-year prison term and up to life, without regard to the length of the authorized prison term for defendant’s original crime.
Haymond’s judge said that without §3583(k), he “probably would have sentenced in the range of two years or less.” But he was required to impose a five-year minimum.
Haymond claimed that §3583(k) violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to a jury trial. The Tenth Circuit agreed.
The Supreme Court, in a four justice plurality opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, held that §3583(k) violated the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because it allows “a federal judge to send a man to prison for a minimum of five years without empaneling a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“A judge’s authority to issue a sentence derives from, and is limited by, the jury’s factual findings of criminal conduct,” the Court said.
The Court had previously held, in Alleyne v. United States (2013), that any facts necessary to increase a defendant’s minimum punishment must be found by a jury, no less than facts necessary to increase the maximum punishment.
“Based on the facts reflected in the jury’s verdict, Mr. Haymond faced a lawful prison term of between zero and 10 years,” the Court said. “But then a judge – acting without a jury and based only on a preponderance of the evidence – found that Mr. Hamond had engaged in additional conduct” that violated supervised release.
“Under §3583(k), that judicial factfinding triggered a new punishment in the form of a prison term of at least five years and up to life,” the Court said. “The facts the judge found here increased the legally prescribed range of allowable sentences in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.”
The Court noted that the Government could have charged Haymond with a new child pornography offense.
“But why bother with an old-fashioned jury trial for a new crime when a quick-and-easy supervised release revocation hearing before a judge carries a penalty of five years to life?”, the Court said. “This displacement of the jury’s traditional supervisory role, under cover of a welter of new labels, exemplifies the Framers’ fears that the jury right could be lost not only by gross denial, but by erosion.
What, then, is the remedy?
The Tenth Circuit declared portions of §3583 “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” But the Government argues that it should be allowed to pursue a jury trial on the issue of revocation.
Since the Court is not one of “first review,” the Court remanded the case to the Tenth Circuit to determine the appropriate remedy.
Justice Breyer concurred in the result, and said that §3583(k) was unconstitutional.
But he did not join the plurality opinion because he said it may have “potentially destabilizing consequences” pointed out by the dissenting justices.
Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts, said the opinion lays the groundwork for later decisions attacking much of the scheme of supervised release.
“Many passages in the opinion suggest that the entire system of supervised release, which has been an integral part of the federal criminal justice system for the past 35 years, is fundamentally flawed in ways that cannot be fixed,” they said.
“Many statements and passages in the plurality opinion strongly suggest that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial applies to any supervised release revocation proceeding,” they said. “Which means that as a practical matter, supervised release revocation proceedings cannot be held.”
“If the Court eventually takes the trip that this opinion proposes, the consequences will be far reaching and unfortunate,” they said.