When do You Have the Right to a Jury Trial? U.S. v. Haymond, United States Supreme Court, Decided June 26, 2019
When do you have the right to a jury trial?
Most people think that the answer is obvious – if you are charged with a crime, you are entitled to a jury trial. But the answer is more subtle than that. For example, what if you are found guilty by a jury, sentenced by a judge, and then brought back to court for a probation, parole, or community supervision violation?
If you are found guilty of the probation violation, you may go back to prison – but the courts have found that you are not entitled to a jury trial for a probation revocation.
In U.S. v. Haymond, however, the US Supreme Court reminded everyone that you cannot be sentenced to additional prison time above what would have been possible based on the facts found by the jury – or an additional mandatory minimum sentence – based on facts that were not determined beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury…
Can a Probation Revocation Carry More Time Than the Underlying Offense?
In Haymond, the Court recognized that a probation, parole, or community supervision revocation can and often does result in jail time. But the sentence cannot exceed the maximum sentence that would have been possible based on the facts found by the jury.
Haymond was convicted of possessing child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of ten years. After his release from prison and while on community supervision, the government alleged that he was in possession of child pornography again.
Rather than seeking to revoke his community supervision and force him to serve the remainder of his sentence, the government sought an additional prison sentence under 18 U. S. C. §3583(k), which required the judge to sentence Haymond to an additional mandatory minimum of five years after finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Haymond had possessed child pornography:
Under §3583(k), added to the Act in 2003 and amended in 2006, if a judge finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant on supervised release committed one of several enumerated offenses, including the possession of child pornography, the judge must impose an additional prison term of at least five years and up to life without regard to the length of the prison term authorized for the defendant’s initial crime of conviction.
18 U. S. C. §3583(e)(3) authorizes a court to revoke a person’s supervised release if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that they violated the terms of their supervised release:
The court may, after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(B), (a)(2)(C), (a)(2)(D), (a)(4), (a)(5), (a)(6), and (a)(7)— …
(3) revoke a term of supervised release, and require the defendant to serve in prison all or part of the term of supervised release authorized by statute for the offense that resulted in such term of supervised release without credit for time previously served on postrelease supervision, if the court, pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure applicable to revocation of probation or supervised release, finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant violated a condition of supervised release, except that a defendant whose term is revoked under this paragraph may not be required to serve on any such revocation more than 5 years in prison if the offense that resulted in the term of supervised release is a class A felony, more than 3 years in prison if such offense is a class B felony, more than 2 years in prison if such offense is a class C or D felony, or more than one year in any other case
Ordinarily, a judge is bound by the defendant’s original sentence – if a defendant is released early on parole or community supervision, a court can impose no more than the remainder of their sentence when they violate the conditions of their release.
- 3583(e)(3) is in line with this – it not only limits the revocation to “all or part of the term of supervised release authorized by statute for the offense,” but it also provides caps on the amount of time to which a defendant can be sentenced on a revocation.
- 3583(k), however, requires a judge to sentence a defendant to no less than five years on a revocation, without regard to the exceptions contained in §3583(e)(3) and without regard to the original sentence or maximum penalty allowed for the original offense:
(k) Notwithstanding subsection (b), the authorized term of supervised release for any offense under section 1201 involving a minor victim, and for any offense under section 1591, 1594(c), 2241, 2242, 2243, 2244, 2245, 2250, 2251, 2251A, 2252, 2252A, 2260, 2421, 2422, 2423, or 2425, is any term of years not less than 5, or life. If a defendant required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act commits any criminal offense under chapter 109A, 110, or 117, or section 1201 or 1591, for which imprisonment for a term longer than 1 year can be imposed, the court shall revoke the term of supervised release and require the defendant to serve a term of imprisonment under subsection (e)(3) without regard to the exception contained therein. Such term shall be not less than 5 years.
The Supreme Court found that, because §3583(k) requires a new mandatory minimum based on facts that are found by a judge, not a jury, by a preponderance of the evidence and not beyond a reasonable doubt, §3583(k) violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the US Constitution.
Why We Have the Right to a Jury Trial
I’ve always said that our right to a trial by jury is the most important of the rights enumerated in the Constitution. The US Supreme Court, for now, agrees:
Together with the right to vote, those who wrote our Constitution considered the right to trial by jury “the heart and lungs, the mainspring and the center wheel” of our liberties, without which “the body must die; the watch must run down; the government must become arbitrary…” Just as the right to vote sought to preserve the people’s authority over their government’s executive and legislative functions, the right to a jury trial sought to preserve the people’s authority over its judicial functions.
Why does the government (the legislature) pass laws that attempt to take away defendants’ rights to have jurors decide the facts in their cases? And, why does the government (prosecutors) argue to take away a defendant’s right to have jurors hear the facts in his case?
The Court in Haymond hit the nail on the head:
Jury trials are inconvenient for the government. Yet like much else in our Constitution, the jury system isn’t designed to promote efficiency but to protect liberty. In what now seems a prescient passage, Blackstone warned that the true threat to trial by jury would come less from “open attacks,” which “none will be so hardy as to make,” as from subtle “machinations, which may sap and undermine i[t] by introducing new and arbitrary methods.”
Jury trials are inconvenient. Preparing and presenting evidence at a trial takes time, resources, and can be incredibly frustrating. Not only is it inconvenient, but the government might lose. Prosecutors prefer to win.
Many prosecutors would prefer to try a case to a judge who can decide guilt by a preponderance of the evidence than to try a case to a jury who will decide whether the facts support a guilty verdict beyond any reasonable doubt.
Which is why our right to a trial by jury is the most important right that we have.
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