Sentencing Considerations and Acquittals (Part 3)

by | Nov 16, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Pierre-Louis continued in relevant part: The Court reverses in Melvin and affirms in Paden-Battle. Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution bestows upon all citizens certain natural and unalienable rights. From those rights flows the doctrine of fundamental fairness, which protects against arbitrary and unjust government action. Fundamental fairness prohibits courts from subjecting a defendant to enhanced sentencing for conduct as to which a jury found that defendant not guilty.

Both the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 10 of the New Jersey Constitution guarantee all criminal defendants the right to a jury trial, and — under both Constitutions — due process requires that the prosecution prove each element of a charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. That burden is underscored through special weight conferred by a jury’s acquittal. Not only are defendants protected from being tried a second time for an offense for which they have been acquitted, but, significantly, an acquitted defendant retains the presumption of innocence.

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, which the parties here addressed, the United States Supreme Court held that, “other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000). Here, because neither defendant was sentenced above the statutory maximum for their counts of conviction, Apprendi is inapplicable.

Nor does Watts control. In Watts, the United States Supreme Court held that “a jury’s verdict of acquittal does not prevent the sentencing court from considering conduct underlying the acquitted charge, so long as that conduct has been proved by a preponderance of the evidence.” 519 U.S. at 157. In United States v. Booker, the Court appeared to limit Watts and minimize its precedential value. See 543 U.S. 220, 240 n.4 (2005).

Attorney Richard G. Singer was one of he three defense attorneys that successfully argued the above-cited Apprendi case before the United States Supreme Court. Professor Singer taught criminal procedure at the Rutgers School of Law while I and Justice Pierre-Louis were there as students.