June 17, 2013 (The Sentencing Project)
U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Mandatory Sentencing Will Bring Greater Fairness in Sentencing
In a 5 to 4 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain facts must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt in order to impose a mandatory minimum sentence. The case of Alleyne v. United States focused on whether in federal cases the brandishing of a weapon must be charged in an indictment, and proved to a jury, in order to set or increase a mandatory minimum. The Court held that this rigorous burden of proof is required by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the thousands of individuals and their families — disproportionately from communities of color — whose lives are put on hold each year by unjust mandatory minimum sentences,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project.
“Research shows that mandatory minimums contribute significantly to racial disparities in punishment. By requiring a higher burden of proof in order to impose such sentences, the Court has taken an important step toward diminishing a primary driver of high prison populations, increasing prison costs, and racial unfairness in the criminal justice system.”
The Sentencing Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief , along with the ACLU, in support of the proposition that drug quantity must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt in order to impose a mandatory minimum punishment.
Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Now in Jury’s Hands
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a jury, not a judge, should have the final say on facts that impose mandatory minimum sentences.
In particular, the 5-4 ruling will make it harder to impose minimum sentences on drug offenders, because they are among the most frequent to receive those sentences. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“Mandatory minimums for drug offenders will lessen, but it’s difficult to say to what extent,” says Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, which opposes mandatory minimum sentences.
“It’s also likely that this will have beneficial effects in reducing racial disparity, because so many mandatory minimums are imposed for drug offenses, and because African-Americans in particular are on the receiving end of those penalties.
Monday’s ruling may also save taxpayers money. A 1997 report by the Rand Corporation on the cost of mandatory minimums, the most recent report on the subject, found mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders cost taxpayers far more money than treating them — primarily because of the high cost of incarceration.