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United States v. Booker

Case Name
United States v. Booker
543 U.S. 220
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
(1) John Paul Stevens (2) Stephen Breyer
Judge(s) - Majority
(1) John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas (2) Stephen Breyer, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Judge(s) - Dissent
(1) William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer (2) John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, David Souter, Clarence Thomas
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
7th Circuit
Decision Year


In two separate cases, defendants were charged with drug possession and distribution charges. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which were mandatory at the time, the first defendant’s sentence was increased by 8 years based on a finding in a post-conviction hearing of the trial judge that the defendant possessed more cocaine that the jury found. Instead of a maximum 21 year sentence, the judge sentenced defendant to 30 years in prison. This sentence was overturned on appeal to the 7th Circuit, as they held that the statutory maximum is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant. The 7th Circuit remanded, giving the district court the choice between resentencing the defendant consistent with the findings of the jury, or holding a sentencing hearing before a new jury. The State appealed. The second defendant would have been sentenced to a maximum of 5-6 years based on the jury’s findings. However, the trial judge found additional facts that would have increased his sentence to 15-16 years based on the Sentencing Guidelines, but the judge refused to apply the Sentencing Guidelines’ enhancement provisions. The State appealed. The Court relied on their previous holding in Apprendi v. New Jersey, in stating that, “Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Court held that when a judge makes additional findings that contribute to the increase of a sentence under the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines system, the defendant’s 6th Amendment rights are violated. To rectify this issue, the Court held that the provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines that made them mandatory were unconstitutional and the Guidelines therafter became advisory.

Key Quote

“We do not doubt that Congress, when it wrote the Sentencing Act, intended to create a form of mandatory Guidelines system. But, we repeat, given today’s constitutional holding, that is not a choice that remains open. Hence we have examined the statute in depth to determine Congress’ likely intent in light of today’s holding. And we have concluded that today’s holding is fundamentally inconsistent with the judge-based sentencing system that Congress enacted into law. In our view, it is more consistent with Congress’ likely intent in enacting the Sentencing Reform Act to preserve important elements of that system while severing and excising two provisions […]” p.265