Federal Criminal Justice Clinic Attends Oral Argument in Supreme Court Sentencing Case

January 22, 2013

On Monday, January 14, Federal Criminal Justice Clinic students Jason Feld and Sarah Nudelman, along with Professor Alison Siegler and Fellow Erica Zunkel, attended oral argument before the United States Supreme Court in Alleyne v. United States, 11-9335, a potentially revolutionary case about mandatory minimum penalties in which the FCJC and two UChicago alums at Mayer Brown wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU and The Sentencing Project. In this case, the clinic joined the petitioner to urge the Court to reverse recent prior precedent by requiring that the facts that set mandatory minimums be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Two exciting things happened during the oral argument. First, the argument gave hope that Justice Breyer—the swing vote on this issue— might be ready to reconsider his previous stance and sign on to the clinic's position. The current rule rests on a 4-1-4 plurality, with Justice Breyer’s concurrence providing the key vote against extending the jury trial right to the facts that set mandatory minimums. If he switches sides, there may well be five votes in favor of the clinic's position. Second, the Federal Defender representing the petitioner cited the clinic’s amicus brief in response to a question posed by Justice Kagan and reiterated by Chief Justice Roberts. A number of other justices followed up with questions about the issues in the clinic’s brief, which was the only amicus brief raised during the argument and discussed by the Justices. Links to the oral argument transcript and the clinic’s brief can be found here, as can Prof. Siegler’s discussion of the argument on NPR.