U.S. v. Haymond — What a Jury Must Find, But Can You Find a Jury?
Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq.
June 26, 2019
In United States v. Haymond, __ U.S. __ (June 26, 2019), the Supreme Court held it was unconstitutional to impose a 5-year mandatory minimum prison term for a violation of federal supervised release based on a judge’s finding that the violation occurred. As background, In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court held that any fact that increases the sentencing range for a criminal conviction must be pled and proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), the Court held that any fact that increases the minimum punishment a person is required to receive upon conviction of a crime also has to be pled and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. These requirements flow from the right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Before Apprendi and Alleyne, judges (especially in federal court) use to run up people’s sentences enormously based on findings they made, by a preponderance of the evidence, of facts never decided by a jury.
What was the Problem?
Haymond was convicted in federal court of possessing child pornography. While he was on supervised release following his 38-month sentence, authorities found child pornography on his phone. The government charged him with a violation of supervised release, alleging that he knowingly possessed the child pornography. In a supervised release context, the judge decides by a preponderance of the evidence whether the government proves the alleged violation. Haymond’s judge found that Haymond knowingly possessed child pornography. In most supervised release cases, a judge has discretion over the amount of incarceration to impose for a violation. In Haymond’s case, the controlling statute required the judge to impose at least 5 years, up to life in prison, because the violation consisted of possessing child pornography while on supervised release for possessing child pornography. Haymond’s judge imposed 5 years of incarceration.
What Did the Supreme Court Do About It?
Haymond argued that the statute was unconstitutional because it left it to a judge, not a jury, to decide whether the government proved the facts on which the mandatory minimum prison term was imposed. A plurality of 4 Supreme Court justices (Gorsuch, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan) decided this process violated Haymond’s Sixth Amendment rights under the principles announced in Apprendi and Alleyne. Justice Breyer concurred that the process was unconstitutional, but he refused to hold that Apprendi and Alleyne control in the context of supervised release violations, as opposed to the context of trials in the first instance. So there we have it… It is unconstitutional for a judge to determine facts for a supervised release violation resulting in the imposition of a mandatory minimum term of incarceration.
How Often Are Facts Really Decided by Juries in Federal Criminal Cases?
There were 4 dissenters (Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Kavanaugh). The dissenters predict that the plurality has laid the groundwork to overturn supervised release generally. Time will tell. But on page 4 of his dissent, Justice Alito points out an interesting fact — There were a total of 1,809 completed criminal jury trials in all of the federal district courts in all of 2018. This is remarkable. Given that there are 94 federal district courts, a total of 1,809 completed trials averages out to 19.24 completed criminal jury trials in each federal courthouse in all of 2018. And some of those courthouses (NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc.) are relatively busy, with the capacity to run many courtrooms at any given time. There are roughly 670 federal district court judges, so 1,809 criminal trials averages out to about 2.7 criminal jury trials per judge. A lot of people have the impression that the criminal justice process is all about jury trials. That’s what T.V. will do to perceptions of reality, but the vast, vast majority of those caught up in it come to understand that the criminal justice process is ordinarily about something else entirely.