Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 27 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 545 (2002)

Opinion of Breyer, J.

fort to achieve sentencing proportionality—a key element of sentencing fairness that demands that the law punish a drug "kingpin" and a "mule" differently. They transfer sentencing power to prosecutors, who can determine sentences through the charges they decide to bring, and who thereby have reintroduced much of the sentencing disparity that Congress created Guidelines to eliminate. U. S. Sentencing Comm'n, Special Report to Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System i-iv, 31-33 (1991) (Sentencing Report); see also Schulhofer, supra, at 214-220. They rarely are based upon empirical study. See Rehnquist, supra, at 9-10; Hatch, supra, at 198. And there is evidence that they encourage subterfuge, leading to more frequent downward departures (on a random basis), thereby making them a comparatively ineffective means of guaranteeing tough sentences. See Sentencing Report 53.

Applying Apprendi in this case would not, however, lead Congress to abolish, or to modify, mandatory minimum sentencing statutes. Rather, it would simply require the prosecutor to charge, and the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of the "factor," say, the amount of unlawful drugs, that triggers the mandatory minimum. In many cases, a defendant, claiming innocence and arguing, say, mistaken identity, will find it impossible simultaneously to argue to the jury that the prosecutor has overstated the drug amount. How, the jury might ask, could this "inno-cent" defendant know anything about that matter? The upshot is that in many such cases defendant and prosecutor will enter into a stipulation before trial as to drug amounts to be used at sentencing (if the jury finds the defendant guilty). To that extent, application of Apprendi would take from the judge the power to make a factual determination, while giving that power not to juries, but to prosecutors. And such consequences, when viewed through the prism of an open, fair sentencing system, are seriously adverse.


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