Jones v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Alden's Workplace

DOCKET NO.: 97-6203
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 227 (1999)
ARGUED: Oct 05, 1998
DECIDED: Mar 24, 1999

Edward C. DuMont - Argued the cause for the United States
Quin Denvir - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Nathaniel Jones was indicted on federal offenses for using a gun during and in relation to a crime of violence and carjacking. Federal law prescribed varying prison terms based on the extent of the carjacking crime. Specifically, it imposed a maximum of 25 years for crimes resulting in serious bodily injury, but not-more-than-fifteen-years and life sentence clauses were included in the law. The Magistrate Judge explained to Jones that he faced a maximum of fifteen years on the carjacking charge. Based on the Magistrate's judgment, the District Court's instructions to the jury rested on the fact that the government only had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a carjacking had occurred to convict Jones for up to fifteen years. Subsequently, the jury found Jones guilty. However, a later report showed one of the carjacking victims had sustained a serious injury to the head as a result of the carjacking. Thus, the District Court imposed a twenty-five year sentence on Jones. The court rejected Jones' arguments that a serious bodily injury had neither been pleaded in the indictment nor proved before the jury. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. It held that a serious bodily injury was a sentencing factor, not an element of an offense.


Does the federal carjacking law define a single crime with three penalty options dependent on sentencing factors?

Media for Jones v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 05, 1998 in Jones v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 24, 1999 in Jones v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 97-6203, Jones against United States will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In 1992 the petitioner Jones was indicted under the federal carjacking statute 18 U.S. Code 2119.

At that time the statute, which includes three numbered subsections, provided in the first subsection that whoever possessing a firearm takes a motor vehicle from the person or presence of another by force and violence or by intimidation, shall be imprisoned not more than 15 years.

In the second and third subsections, the statute increased the possible penalties to 25 years in prison if a victim suffered seriously bodily injury and life imprisoned, if a victim die.

Petitioner’s indictment made no mention of the subsections providing hiding penalties and that his arrangement the magistrate judge informed petitioner that he faced the maximum sentence of 15 years.

Upon conviction however, the District Court imposed the 25 years sentence under the statute second subsection, based on its finding by preponderance that one of the victims had suffered serious bodily injury.

The petitioner challenged that finding contending that serious bodily injury was an element of the offence defined in part by the second subsection of 2119, the subsection referring to facts, which had been neither pleaded in the indictment nor proven to the jury.

The District Court rejected the argument finding that the second subsection defined a sentencing factor, not an element of the offence and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk the Court we reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and hold that the federal carjacking statute sets out three separate offences by the specification of distinct element, each of which must be charged by indictment, proved beyond a reasonable doubt and submitted to a jury for its verdict.

The structure and wording of the statute admittedly offer mixed clues about Congress’ intent.

But the fact that the carjacking statute was modeled on several other federal robbery statutes and that those statutes treat serious bodily injury or similar facts about violence as offence elements convinced us that Congress intended serious bodily injury to be an offence element in the carjacking statute as well.

Our interpretation is also informed by the principle that when a statute is susceptible more than one plausible interpretation.

We should avoid the reading that would raise serious doubt about the statutes constitutionality.

The government’s treatment of the statutes numbered subsections as sentencing considerations would do just that because as a line of our case is beginning with In re Winship more than a quarter centaury ago may clear.

It is doubtful whether under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the notice injury trial guarantees of the Sixth Amendment, a fact, other than prior convictions that raises the maximum penalty for an offence maybe exempted from the requirements of indictment submission to a Jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice Stevens and Justice Scalia have each filed concurring opinions; Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and the Justices O’Connor and Breyer join.