Drug Court Resentencings and the Sixth Amendment (Part 4)

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate panel continued in relevant part: The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Haymond supports this conclusion. In that case, the Court confronted the application of Apprendi principles in the context of federal supervised release. A jury found the defendant guilty of possessing child pornography. 588 U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. at 2373 (plurality opinion). Federal law authorized the judge to impose a prison term of “between zero and ten years.” Ibid. (citing 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2)). Based on the defendant’s criminal background and characteristics, the judge sentenced the defendant to thirty-eight months in prison, followed by ten years of supervised release. Ibid.

Haymond completed the custodial portion of his sentence and was on supervised release when federal authorities discovered child pornography on his cellphone and computers. Id. at 2374. At a hearing, a judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that Haymond had violated a condition of supervised release. Ibid. The question then turned to the appropriate sentence in response to the violation. Federal law ordinarily would have permitted the judge to sentence Haymond “to between zero and two additional years in prison.” Ibid. (citing 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3)). However, under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k), if a judge finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant on supervised release committed one of several enumerated offenses, including the possession of child pornography, the judge must impose an additional prison term of at least five years and up to life without regard to the length of the prison term authorized for the defendant’s initial crime of conviction.

The judge thus was required to impose a minimum prison sentence of five years for the violation of supervised release, even though the defendant’s original conviction under § 2252(b)(2) did not prescribe a minimum term of imprisonment. Id. at 2375.

A sharply divided Court struck down § 3583(k). A four-justice plurality held § 3583(k) violated the court’s decision in Alleyne v. United States (2013), which held “‘Apprendi applies with equal force to facts increasing the mandatory minimum’ as it does to facts increasing the statutory maximum penalty.” Haymond, 588 U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. at 2378 (quoting Alleyne, 570 U.S. at 112). Applying that principle, the Haymond plurality deemed § 3583(k) unconstitutional because judicial fact finding triggered a mandatory sentence of at least five years in prison when, on the basis of the facts found by the jury, the defendant was subject to as little as no years in prison. Ibid.

A life sentence for a violation of supervised release seems excessive under the circumstances. The justices that would have affirmed the sentence may have been moved by the defendant’s repeated involvement with offenses related to child pornography.