Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 2 (2002)

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546

HARRIS v. UNITED STATES

Syllabus

1. As a matter of statutory interpretation, 924(c)(1)(A) defines a single offense, in which brandishing and discharging are sentencing factors to be found by the judge, not offense elements to be found by the jury. Pp. 552-556.

(a) The prohibition's structure suggests that brandishing and discharging are sentencing factors. Federal laws usually list all offense elements in a single sentence and separate the sentencing factors into subsections. Castillo v. United States, 530 U. S. 120, 125. The instant statute's lengthy principal paragraph lists the elements of a complete crime. Toward the end of the paragraph is the word "shall," which often divides offense-defining provisions from sentence-specifying ones. Jones v. United States, 526 U. S. 227, 233. And following "shall" are the separate subsections, which explain how defendants are to "be sentenced." Thus this Court can presume that the principal paragraph defines a single crime and its subsections identify sentencing factors. Pp. 552-553.

(b) As Jones illustrates, the statute's text might provide evidence to the contrary, but the critical textual clues here reinforce the single-offense interpretation. Brandishing has been singled out as a paradigmatic sentencing factor, Castillo, supra, at 126. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, moreover, brandishing and discharging are factors that affect sentences for numerous crimes. The incremental changes in the minimum penalty at issue here are precisely what one would expect to see in provisions meant to identify matters for the sentencing judge's consideration. Pp. 553-554.

(c) The canon of constitutional avoidance—which provides that when a statute is susceptible of two constructions, the Court must adopt the one that avoids grave and doubtful constitutional questions—plays no role here. The constitutional principle that petitioner says a single-offense interpretation of the statute would violate—that any fact increasing the statutory minimum sentence must be accorded the safeguards assigned to elements—was rejected in McMillan. Petitioner's suggestion that the canon be used to avoid overruling one of this Court's own precedents is novel and, given that McMillan was in place when 924(c)(1)(A) was enacted, unsound. Congress would have had no reason to believe that it was approaching the constitutional line by following the instruction this Court gave in McMillan. Pp. 554-556.

2. Reaffirming McMillan and employing the approach outlined in that opinion, the Court concludes that 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) is constitutional. Basing a 2-year increase in the defendant's minimum sentence on a judicial finding of brandishing does not evade the Fifth and Sixth Amendments' requirements. Congress simply dictated the precise weight

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