Parole Ineligibility and the Sixth Amendment (Part 2)

by | Jan 24, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued: The point of this discussion is to underscore the highly discretionary nature of the sentencing process and to distinguish the mandatory-minimum sentence imposed in this case from the mandatory minimums imposed in both Alleyne and Grate. Here, the jury’s verdict authorized a sentence within the ordinary-term and mandatory-minimum term ranges with the ultimate sentence depending on the court’s exercise of discretion in finding, weighing, and balancing the aggravating and mitigating factors. As the Court explained in Blakely, in a statutory scheme that allows a judge to punish a burglar within a range of ten to forty years, the Constitution places no bar on the imposition of a sentence at the top of that range based on judicial fact-findings. 542 U.S. at 309. The Court undoubtedly expected that aggravating factors would be necessary to justify a high-end sentence; otherwise, such a sentence would not survive review under a reasonableness analysis. See Booker, 543 U.S. at 261-62. Moreover, in fashioning a remedy for the invalidated Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Court provided examples of discretionary judicial fact-findings permissible within the prescribed range that would “maintain a strong connection between the sentence imposed and the offender’s real conduct.” Booker, 543 U.S. at 246, 252.

In Alleyne, the judicial finding of a fact at sentencing — brandishing a firearm — automatically triggered a seven-year mandatory-minimum term beyond the five-year mandatory-minimum sentence authorized by the jury’s verdict. Alleyne, 570 U.S. at 117. In Grate, the judicial finding of a fact at sentencing — the substantial likelihood that the defendant was involved in organized criminal activity — automatically triggered a five-year mandatory-minimum term beyond the flat-sentence range authorized by the jury’s verdict. In both Alleyne and Grate, a fact found by a judge at sentencing — a fact not submitted to a jury — automatically determined the period of parole ineligibility and therefore was the equivalent of an element of the offense for Sixth Amendment purposes.

This opinion gives new significance to the permissible aggravating and mitigating factors at sentencing. It is the weighing of these factors that triggers a judge’s ability to impose a period of parole ineligibility.