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SCOTUS Says Jury, Not a Judge, Must Decide Facts for Punishment

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 26, 2019 3:24 PM

Andre Haymond got a break in his child pornography case, as the U.S. Supreme Court said his sentence for violating probation should be decided by a jury.

In United States v. Haymond, the justices said the defendant's sentence was "unconstitutional and unenforceable" because the punishment exceeded his original sentence and the judge added prison time without a jury finding. A jury must decide every fact that is "essential to an individual's punishment," the divided court said.

It had to do with the burden of proof. A judge cannot mete out a sentence based merely upon a preponderance of evidence.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In a not-so-surprising vote, Justice Neil Gorsuch joined liberal colleagues in writing the 5-4 decision. It is the fourth time he has sided with them since President Trump appointed him.

"Only a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person's liberty," Gorsuch wrote in reversing and remanding. "That promise stands as one of the Constitution's most vital protections against arbitrary government."

Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. dissented, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. They said the majority raised the bar higher than required by the Constitution.

"If the court eventually takes the trip that this opinion proposes, the consequences will be far-reaching and unfortunate," Alito wrote.

Sex Offender Registry

It was the second decision by the Supreme Court in a week involving the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. The law requires sex offenders to register and update their information when they move.

In the earlier case, the High Court upheld the registration requirement for an offender who was convicted before the law was enacted. The defendant argued unsuccessfully that Congress improperly delegated its authority to the attorney general to decide how the law applied to him.

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