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The Irony of Apprendi
By Mark Allenbaugh
In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), the
Court held that “it is unconstitutional for a legislature to remove from
the jury the assessment of facts that increase the prescribed range of
penalties to which a criminal defendant is exposed. It is equally clear
that such facts must be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The circuit courts have continued to wrestle with whether this language
requires facts triggering mandatory minimum penalties to be treated as
elements of the offense.
In Harris v. United States, 122 S. Ct. 2406 (2002), despite five justices agreeing that the logic of Apprendi’s
holding applies to facts triggering mandatory minimums, a plurality of
the Court nevertheless held that facts triggering mandatory minimum
penalties in firearms cases need not be treated as elements. (Conceding that Apprendi applies to mandatory minimum sentencing structures, Justice Breyer, a dissenter in Apprendi, declined to apply Apprendi to the firear
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