[Note - this page was written June 2000 - the information herein is no longer up to date.]
June 26, 2000 the United States Supreme Court held in Apprendi v. New Jersey that any fact used by a sentencing court to increase a sentence beyond what otherwise would be the statutory maximum must be alleged in the indictment and proved beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury as fact finder. Three days later, in Jones v. United States, the Supreme Court reversed a federal drug conviction based on the Apprendi holding.
Apprendi applies to both state and federal criminal charges. Its most dramatic effect may be on federal drug cases in which a defendant received a sentence based on a minimum mandatory drug quantity. Depending on the circumstances of the case, such sentences may now be subject to reversal. Any person who received a mandatory life sentence based on prior convictions in a federal drug case may also be entitled to have the sentence set aside. At least one federal court has already held that this decision is retroactive for federal habeas relief purposes under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255. However most court decisions so far are refusing to apply Apprendi retroactively, that is refusing to apply the decision to either a new or a successive habeas petition, but only applying the decision to cases not yet final on direct appeal. A case is not final on direct appeal until a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court has been denied (if one was filed), otherwise a case is final on direct appeal when the mandate issues from the court of appeal on the direct appeal. Under some circumstances courts of appeal will recall a mandate and reopen an appeal, but this is very unusual.
Courts so far seem to be taking the position that Apprendi cannot be applied to a new 2255 habeas petition unless Apprendi meets the Teague v. Lane standard and are refusing to apply it retroactively on a successive or otherwise time barred 2255 until the Supreme Court announces that the rule is to be expressly retroactive. That could happen this term before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has a case on review at this time that may result in an announcement that Apprendi is to have retroactive effect.
On direct appeal applications, courts are attempting to skirt Apprendi if possible by application of either the plain error standard of Rule 52 or a harmless error analysis, however, some clients are obtaining relief, in some cases, substantial relief. If you received a federal sentence in a cocaine or crack cocaine case in excess of twenty years, whether under the guidelines or under a section 851 enhancement, you may be entitled to relief under Apprendi. Similarly, federal marijuana sentences in excess of one (or five) years may be subject to attack under Apprendi.
If you have any questions about the Apprendi decision and how it may apply to your case or the case of someone you know, please call or email Mr. Kent at 904-398-8000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Criminal Appeals and Defense - Law Office of William Kent