Federal Criminal Justice Clinic Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Sentencing Case

December 5, 2012

The Federal Criminal Justice Clinic has filed an amicus brief on behalf of The Sentencing Project and the ACLU in Alleyne v. United States, a case before the Supreme Court that is set for oral argument on January 14, 2013. FCJC students Jason Feld and Sarah Nudelman were instrumental in preparing the brief, spending countless hours researching, writing, and editing; alums Chip Dickerson ('10) and Charles Woodworth ('11) of Mayer Brown served as co-counsel.  Alleyne has the potential to be a revolutionary sentencing case. The question presented in Alleyne is whether the Court should overrule Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), in which a bare plurality held that the facts that set mandatory minimum penalties are not elements of an offense that need to be charged in an indictment and proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Harris concluded that those facts may be proved to a sentencing judge by a mere preponderance of the evidence. Alleyne argues that Harris violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. While Alleyne’s case is a federal gun case, the clinic’s brief focuses the Court’s attention on a circuit split that has arisen in Harris’s wake over setting mandatory minimums in federal drug cases. The brief argues that overruling Harris is the best way to cleanly resolve that split. (As noted in the brief, nearly 80% of mandatory minimums imposed in the federal system last year were imposed drug cases.) The brief also draws on empirical data to show that the result sought will reduce the unwarranted racial disparity in the imposition of mandatory minimums.