Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 10 (2002)

Page:   Index   Previous  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  Next

554

HARRIS v. UNITED STATES

Opinion of the Court

brandishing provision. The term "brandished" does not appear in any federal offense-defining provision save 18 U. S. C. 924(c)(1)(A), and did not appear there until 1998, when the statute was amended to take its current form. The numbered subsections were added then, describing, as sentencing factors often do, "special features of the manner in which" the statute's "basic crime" could be carried out. Castillo, supra, at 126. It thus seems likely that brandishing and discharging were meant to serve the same function under the statute as they do under the Guidelines.

We might have had reason to question that inference if brandishing or discharging altered the defendant's punishment in a manner not usually associated with sentencing factors. Jones is again instructive. There the Court accorded great significance to the "steeply higher penalties" authorized by the carjacking statute's three subsections, which enhanced the defendant's maximum sentence from 15 years, to 25 years, to life—enhancements the Court doubted Congress would have made contingent upon judicial factfinding. 526 U. S., at 233; see also Castillo, supra, at 131; AlmendarezTorres, supra, at 235-236. The provisions before us now, however, have an effect on the defendant's sentence that is more consistent with traditional understandings about how sentencing factors operate; the required findings constrain, rather than extend, the sentencing judge's discretion. Section 924(c)(1)(A) does not authorize the judge to impose "steeply higher penalties"—or higher penalties at all—once the facts in question are found. Since the subsections alter only the minimum, the judge may impose a sentence well in excess of seven years, whether or not the defendant brandished the firearm. The incremental changes in the mini-mum—from 5 years, to 7, to 10—are precisely what one would expect to see in provisions meant to identify matters for the sentencing judge's consideration.

Nothing about the text or history of the statute rebuts the presumption drawn from its structure. Against the single-

Page:   Index   Previous  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007