Almendarez-Torres v. United States Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“Title 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) makes it a crime for a deported alien to return to the United States without special permission and authorizes a maximum prison term of two years. In 1988, Congress added subsection (b)(2), which authorizes a maximum prison term of 20 years for “any alien described” in subsection (a), if the initial “deportation was subsequent to a conviction for commission of an aggravated felony.” Petitioner Hugo Almendarez–Torres pleaded guilty to violating § 1326, admitting that he had been deported, that he had unlawfully returned, and that the earlier deportation had taken place pursuant to three convictions for aggravated felonies. Almendarez-Torres argued at the sentencing hearing that his indictment had not mentioned his earlier aggravated felony convictions. And he argued that, consequently, the court could not sentence him to more than two years’ imprisonment, the maximum authorized for an offender without an earlier conviction. The District Court rejected his argument and sentenced him under the applicable Sentencing Guideline range to 85 months’ imprisonment. The Fifth Circuit also rejected his argument, holding that subsection (b)(2) is a penalty provision that simply permits the imposition of a higher sentence when the unlawfully returning alien also has a record of prior convictions. Petitioner was granted certiorari review.”


Did the Illinois congressional districts unconstitutionally violate principles of fair apportionment?


“No. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Court held that subsection (b)(2) of 8 USC section 1326(a) is a penalty provision, which authorizes a court to increase the sentence for a recidivist, and does not define a separate crime. “[W]e note that the relevant statutory subject matter is recidivism,” wrote Justice Breyer, “[t]hat subject matter — prior commission of a serious crime — is as typical a sentencing factor as one might imagine.” Therefore, neither subsection (b)(2) nor the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment required that the government charge a prior aggravated felony conviction in the alien’s indictment for the imposition of a sentence more than 2 years.”

Case Information

Citation: 523 US 224 (1998)
Argued: Oct 14, 1997
Decided: Mar 24, 1998
Case Brief: 1998