Supreme Court Cases Dealing With Sentencing Provisions
In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), Supreme Court held that a state sentencing statute which permitted a state court to impose an enhanced sentence beyond the statutory maximum for the crime if it found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the crime was a hate crime, was unconstitutional.
In that case, defendant Apprendi was convicted of a firearm count which carried a 5-to-10 year sentence. However, at sentencing, the trial court found that defendant violated the state sentencing law for bias crimes because he carried out his crime with racial hatred. Pursuant to that statute, it sentenced him to an enhanced sentence of 20 years. Supreme Court found that although New Jersey had named the hate crime a "sentence enhancement," it actually was a separate criminal act (Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. at 476).
It held that the finding as to whether defendant acted with racial hatred when he committed the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and determined by a jury. However, it specifically held that a prior conviction may increase the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum (Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. at 490).
In Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002), Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Apprendi.
In that case, defendant Ring was convicted of felony-murder during the course of robbery. Felony-murder carried a sentence of life imprisonment. Pursuant to the state sentencing laws, if the court determined that one or more aggravating factors existed, then it could sentence defendant to death. The sentencing court found an aggravating factor, that defendant was motivated by "pecuniary gain" when he committed the crime, and it sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court found that in capital cases, whether aggravating factors existed, including whether defendant acted for "pecuniary gain" when he committed the crime, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and determined by the jury (Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. at 604-05).
In Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), defendant Blakely was convicted of kidnapping, which carried a sentence of up to 10 years. The state sentencing provisions mandated a sentence of 49-to-53 months, unless the judge found aggravating factors to enhance the sentence. At sentencing, the court found that defendant carried out his crime with "deliberate cruelty" and sentenced him, as mandated by the state's sentencing guidelines, to 90 months (Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. at 2534-35).
The Supreme Court found that the finding as to whether defendant acted with "deliberate cruelty" when he committed the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and determined by the jury before the court may impose an enhanced sentence based on this factor (Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. at 2537).
Thus, in Apprendi, Ring, and Blakely, the Supreme Court found that the sentencing provisions had added another element to the crime for which defendant had been convicted.
Whether a defendant acted with racial hatred, or with deliberate cruelty, or for pecuniary gain, constituted an element of the crime.
Therefore, each factor should have been decided by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and not by the court by a preponderance of the evidence.
In other words, a factual determination regarding the commission of the crime for which defendant has not been convicted, but which serves as the basis for an enhanced sentence, must be determined by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.