Brief filed: 06/30/2022
McClinton v. United States
United States Supreme Court; Case No. 21-1557
A sentencing judge should not be allowed to functionally overrule a jury's tal acquitof a criminal defendant and punish him for that same acquitted conduct. Yet all too many criminal defendants who were acquitted of more serious criminal charges but convicted on one or more lower charges face judges doing just that. How is this constitutionally dubious sentencing practice possible? Put simply, many lower courts have mistakenly overread this Court's per curiam decision in Watts to permit sentencing judges to do what Apprendi and its progeny later prohibited; namely, find facts that increase the punishment beyond that authorized by the jury's findings of guilt. Acquitted-conduct sentencing flips the presumption of innocence on its head by allowing judges to functionally overrule unanimous jury acquittals based on judge-found facts using the far lower preponderance standard, gutting the Sixth Amendment's jury-trial right. At a minimum, the Sixth Amendment jury-trial right, coupled with the due process requirement that all facts necessary to legally authorize punishment must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, should bar judges from using the same alleged conduct a jury acquitted a defendant of to justify dramatically increasing a defendant's Guidelines range and sentence.
Jeffrey T. Green, NACDL, Washington DC; Michael Pepson, Americans For Prosperity Foundation, Arlington, VA.