As DRCNet reported late last month, the US Supreme Court's ruling in Apprendi v. New Jersey implicitly jeopardized federal graduated sentencing guidelines based on the amount of drugs in question (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/147.html#fedstremble). In that ruling, the justices decided that any element of a crime that enhances the possible sentence beyond a statutory maximum must be proven by a jury, not left to a judge as part of sentencing.
Now, in what could portend a major overhaul of the federal guidelines, we are seeing the first signs that the Apprendi ruling is beginning to bite.
Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled on Apprendi, it sent the case of a Denver man sentenced to 30 years for cocaine distribution back to the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals for reconsideration. Carless Jones was indicted and convicted by a jury of two counts of distributing cocaine, a crime carrying a statutory penalty of 20 years. But the sentencing judge added on an additional 10 years on each count based on the amount of the drug alleged in a presentence report.
This action violated the Supreme Court's argument in Apprendi that the jury, not the judge, must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of cocaine which triggers stiffer sentences was in fact proven.
And earlier this month, two Philadelphia marijuana dealers have seen their prospective sentences cut in half in the first post-Apprendi criminal case in that area.
Lenwood Malachi was sentenced to five years in prison, and codefendant David J. Fitzgerald, a dry-cleaner, was jailed for 10 years for conspiring to traffic in marijuana.
US District Judge Harvey Bartle III said in court that their sentences would have been twice as long if they had been sentenced prior to June, when Apprendi was decided. Both men were convicted of distributing thousands of pounds of marijuana, but because the quantities had not been proven at trial, Bartle said he had no choice but to sentence them for the minimal offense of trafficking less 50 kilograms of marijuana, or 110 pounds.
With some 61,000 federal prisoners sentenced under the old guidelines, these cases may well mark the beginning of an avalanche of appeals. The existing federal sentencing guidelines will, in all probability, have to be rewritten as well.