Any fact that increases the mandatory minimum sentence for a crime must be determined by a jury, not a judge, the Supreme Court rules in an important Sixth Amendment case.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Judges will no longer be permitted to autonomously determine a fact in a criminal case if that fact increases a mandatory minimum punishment for the defendant, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, saying any such fact must be decided by a jury.
The decision marks an important affirmation of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, while establishing a new rule for judges seeking to balance sentencing guidelines with their own judicial discretion.
In the 5-to-4 decision, the high court overturned two existing legal precedents from 1986 and 2002 that permitted judges to make such determinations themselves by a preponderance of the evidence.
In overturning those precedents, the majority justices said any fact that increases a defendant’s sentence – including a mandatory minimum sentence – must be submitted to a jury under the higher standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The essential Sixth Amendment inquiry is whether a fact is an element of the crime,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the 17-page majority opinion.
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