Harris v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Oklahoma School District

DOCKET NO.: 00-10666
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 536 US 545 (2002)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 2002
DECIDED: Jun 24, 2002

Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben - argued the cause for the United States
Michael R. Dreeben - Argued the cause for the respondent
William C. Ingram - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

William Harris, who sold illegal narcotics at his pawnshop with an unconcealed semiautomatic pistol at his side, was convicted for violating 18 USC section 924(c)(1)(A), which provides that a person who in relation to a drug trafficking crime uses or carries a firearm "shall, in addition to the punishment for such crime...if the firearm is brandished, be sentenced to...not less than 7 years." When his presentence report recommended that he receive the 7-year minimum sentence, Harris objected, arguing that brandishing was an element of a separate statutory offense for which he was not indicted or convicted. The District Court found that Harris had brandished the gun and sentenced him to seven years in prison. In affirming, the Court of Appeals found that McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, in which the U.S. Supreme Court sustained a statute that increased the minimum penalty for a crime, though not beyond the statutory maximum, foreclosed his argument that if brandishing is a sentencing factor, the statute is unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466.


Is McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, valid after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466?

Media for Harris v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2002 in Harris v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 2002 in Harris v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court number 00-10666, Harris against United States will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

As the Chief Justice indicates this is Harris versus United States, and in this case as in Ring versus Arizona, the opinion just announced today by Justice Ginsburg, we can consider a question arising from the Court's decision two years ago in Apprendi versus New Jersey.

The petitioner was convicted of violating a federal statute that prohibits defendants from using firearms during drug crimes.

The statute sets no maximum sentence, but the minimum sentence however depends on findings made by the sentencing judge, and the minimum increases from five to seven years, for example, when the judge finds that the defendant brandished the firearm, and that was the case here.

Petitioner was given the seven year minimum after the judge found that he brandished the firearm.

He argues that the statute is unconstitutional because brandishing should have been treated as an element of the crime and if that would so, it would had been found by the jury rather than the judge.

As the petitioner observes in federal prosecution, each element of the crime must be alleged in the indictment submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Apprendi, this Court held that any fact that increases the defendants’ sentence beyond the statutory maximum is an element.

Petitioner argues that under the logic of Apprendi, any fact that increases the defendants’ minimum sentence should also be found by the jury.

The Court rejected this argument in a 1986 case called McMillan versus Pennsylvania.

Petitioner says however that McMillan is inconsistent with Apprendi and must be overruled.

The Court of Appeals upheld the statute and we now affirm.

Part four of my opinion which is the opinion for majority of the court holds that McMillan is still good law and that the statute is constitutional.

The majority agrees about this, our reasoning differs.

Part three of my opinion is joined by three other justices, the Chief Justice, Justice O’Connor and Justice Scalia.

That portion of the opinion says that McMillan is consistent with the Apprendi and its logic.

Read together McMillan and the Apprendi mean that the facts that authorize the judge to impose punishment are the elements of the crime.

When as in the Apprendi, the facts found by the jury allow the judge to impose any sentence between zero and ten years, the judge has no authority to find a fact that extends the sentence beyond the ten years statutory maximum.

This sort of finding has traditionally been treated as an element and found by the jury.

The facts that do not increase the defendant's sentence beyond the maximum are not elements.

Judges have always had authority to find facts beyond that affect the defendant’s sentence within the statutory range.

The facts like brandishing in this case, facts that when firearm require the judge to impose a mandatory minimum sentence below the maximum authorized by the jury's verdict are not elements.

The judge could have imposed this sentence even he or she had not found the fact.

For these and other reasons we affirmed the court holding in McMillan.

Facts increasing the defendant's minimum sentence but not extending it beyond the statutory maximum need not be alleged in the indictment submitted to the jury or proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice O’Connor has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg joined.