Supreme Court rules mandatory sentence based on new crime during supervised release unconstitutional
© WikiMedia (Michael Coghlan)

Supreme Court rules mandatory sentence based on new crime during supervised release unconstitutional

The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a mandatory minimum sentence issued at revocation of supervised release based on a new crime without a jury trial is unconstitutional.

United States v. Haymond addresses the case of Andre Haymond, who was originally convicted on charges of possessing child pornography. Haymond served 38 months in prison and was then granted a term of supervised release. Haymond was again found to possess child pornography during his supervised release. Ordinarily, the judge would have broad discretion to decide what if any additional sentence up to the maximum term remaining on supervised release should be imposed on Haymond under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Under 18 USC § 3583, which governs supervised release, if the judge finds from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed certain enumerated offenses including child pornography offenses while under supervised release, the judge is required to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of five years to life. The judge spoke out about the harshness of the sentence required, but felt compelled to issue it. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held the statute “unconstitutional and unenforceable”.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the plurality opinion of the court which held the section unconstitutional and remanded the case to the Tenth Circuit to determine the appropriate remedy. Gorsuch and the plurality held that imposing a mandatory minimum sentence for what is effectively a new crime without providing the defendant his Fifth Amendment right to Due Process and Sixth Amendment right to Trial by Jury is unconstitutional. The plurality particularly found that sentences increased through fact finding of the judge deny the role of the jury as fact finders unconstitutionally. The plurality declined to address the appropriate remedy instead choosing to send the case back to the Tenth Circuit to address. Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the judgment cementing the plurality, but limited his agreement to the idea that this specific statute was unconstitutional in its execution. Breyer found that this statute behaved more like prosecution of a new crime than like an enhancement to the original.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissent, arguing that supervised release is not true freedom but instead conditional release, which may be revoked without full Due Process. Alito analogized this release more to parole or punishment of prisoners rather than the rights of someone who had not committed a crime. Alito found no Sixth Amendment right to jury trial for enhancement to a sentence already lawfully imposed by a jury.

The case now heads back to the Tenth Circuit to determine an appropriate remedy for Haymond’s case.