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Enforcing Statutory Maximums: How Federal Supervised Release Violates the Sixth Amendment Rights Defined in Apprendi v. New Jersey
The Sixth Amendment commands that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Trial by a jury of one’s peers is a fundamental American legal right, existing in the earliest colonies before being codified in both Article III of the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment. The jury trial right derives from “the mass of the people,” ensuring that “no man can be condemned of life, or limb, or property, or reputation, without the concurrence of the voice of the people.” In recent decades, the Supreme Court has held the Sixth Amendment commands that the jury find, by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the facts necessary to raise the minimum or maximum sentences for the criminal conduct the defendant committed. However, the increasing prevalence of supervised release revocations and reimprisonments has created a work-around to this rule, eroding the importance of the jury in the federal criminal system.
Underdeveloped and Over-Sentenced: Why Eighteen- to Twenty-Year-Olds Should Be Exempt from Life Without Parole
Reynolds Wintersmith was just twenty years old when he learned he may spend the rest of his life in prison. In 1994, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a nonviolent drug crime. It was his first conviction.
When United States District Judge Philip Reinhard was sentencing Reynolds, he struggled with the mandatory minimum requirements:
“Under the federal law I have no discretion in my sentencing. Usually a life sentence is imposed in state courts when somebody has been killed or severely hurt, or you got a recidivist . . . . [T]his is your first conviction, and here you face life imprisonment . . . . [I]t gives me pause to think that that was the intent of Congress, to put somebody away for the rest of their life.”
This comment contends that Reynolds Wintersmith belonged to a class of offenders who should be categorically exempt from sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Sentencing eighteen- to twenty-year-olds to life without parole should be considered cruel and unusual because it is disproportionate to this class of offenders’ culpability.