United States v. Haymond, 588 U.S. ___, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (Jun. 26, 2019)

In a plurality opinion, a majority of the Court held that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) is unconstitutional.  The defendant Haymond was convicted by a jury of possessing child pornography in violation of federal law and was sentenced to a prison term of 38 months, followed by 10 years of supervised release.  While on supervised release, Haymond was discovered to be in possession of apparent child pornography and the government, in the plurality’s words, “sought to revoke [his] supervised release and secure a new and additional prison sentence.”  At a hearing conducted before a district judge acting without a jury, and under a preponderance of the evidence standard, the judge found that Haymond knowingly downloaded and possessed certain images.  Acting in accordance with § 3583(k), the judge revoked Haymond’s supervised release and required him to serve a five-year term of imprisonment.  The Tenth Circuit held that this violated Haymond’s right to a trial by jury under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments and the Supreme Court granted review to evaluate this constitutional holding.

Generally under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e), a judge who finds a violation of a condition of supervised release by a preponderance of the evidence has discretion as to whether to revoke the term of supervised release.  Upon deciding to revoke the term of release, a judge also has discretion as to the amount of time a person must serve in prison as a consequence of the revocation.  18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) modifies this general rule in situations such as Haymond’s where a defendant required to register under SORNA has his or her supervised release revoked because of a judge’s determination that he or she has committed one of several criminal offenses enumerated in the statute.  In such a case, § 3583(k) requires the judge to revoke the term of supervised release and further requires the imposition of a term of imprisonment of at least five years.

Writing for himself and Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor, Justice Gorsuch determined that § 3583(k) ran afoul of principles laid down in Blakely v. Washington, Apprendi v. New Jersey, and Alleyne v. United States, saying that under the statute “judicial factfinding triggered a new punishment in the form of a prison term of at least five years and up to life.”  Likening this situation to that of Alleyne Gorsuch said that “the facts the judge found here increased ‘the legally prescribed range of allowable sentences’ in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.”  Gorsuch continued, saying that “what was true in [Alleyne] can be no less true here: A mandatory minimum 5-year sentence that comes into play only as a result of additional judicial factual findings by a preponderance of the evidence cannot stand.”  Contrasting § 3583(k) against other provisions in § 3583 regarding revoking supervised release and requiring a defendant to serve a term of imprisonment, Gorsuch explained that “§ 3583(k) alone requires a substantial increase in the minimum sentence to which a defendant may be exposed based solely on judge-found facts.”

Justice Breyer concurred in the judgment and said that § 3583(k) is unconstitutional because “it is less like ordinary revocation and more like punishment for a new offense, to which the jury right would typically attach.”  However, Breyer said that he would “not transplant the Apprendi line of cases to the supervised-release context” and that he agreed with much of the dissent.

Justice Alito dissented, joined by Chief justice Roberts, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh.  Justice Alito said that the plurality opinion “is not grounded on any plausible interpretation of the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment,” and generally criticized the plurality for extending the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial to the supervised release context.