McMillan v. Pennsylvania

PETITIONER: McMillan
RESPONDENT: Pennsylvania
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Western District of New York

DOCKET NO.: 85-215
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

CITATION: 477 US 79 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1986

ADVOCATES:
Leonard N. Sosnov - on behalf of Petitioners
Steven J. Cooperstein - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for McMillan v. Pennsylvania

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1986 in McMillan v. Pennsylvania

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Sosnov, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Leonard N. Sosnov:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The principal issue before this Court is whether Pennsylvania's Mandatory Sentencing Act violates due process of law because it provides for proof by only a preponderance of the evidence of the legislatively specified defense-related facts which require the imposition of a mandatory sentence of imprisonment.

The Mandatory Act provides that if a defendant is convicted of one of the numerated list of felonies, the Commonwealth may give notice of its intention to proceed under that act rather than Pennsylvania's discretionary sentencing scheme.

Warren E. Burger:

Do you suggest that that particular provision goes to anything other than the sentence, the penalty?

Leonard N. Sosnov:

Yes.

This type of sentencing scheme is totally different from any other type of nonmandatory sentencing scheme.

In fact, the proceeding under the Pennsylvania Mandatory Sentencing Act is essentially a trial.

There is only one issue at that proceeding.

The Commonwealth gives notice of its intention to proceed under the Act.

A hearing is required by the Act.

At that hearing there is but one issue, the same issue that is normally at a criminal trial, and the issue is did the defendant commit the prohibited conduct which the state wishes to punish?

In this case, the question is did defendant visibly possess a firearm during the commission of criminal activity.

At that hearing, the Commonwealth has the burden of proof by only a preponderance of the evidence.

If the Commonwealth establishes the facts by preponderance of the evidence, a sentence of imprisonment of five to ten years must follow.

Thurgood Marshall:

I think what the Chief Judge is driving at, if the arm, the pistol was in evidence at the trial itself and was Exhibit A, what more do you need?

Leonard N. Sosnov:

As a matter of state law--

Thurgood Marshall:

Yes.

Leonard N. Sosnov:

--If at the trial the pistol was exhibited in evidence, and even if defendant was convicted of an offense such as possession of an instrument of a crime, it is irrelevant under this statutory scheme.

This statutory scheme is set up so that the hearing is held separately, and that if a defendant--

Thurgood Marshall:

Well what hearing do you need more than to look at the pistol?

Leonard N. Sosnov:

--Justice Marshall, we would not be here, we would have no complaint if in fact the factual determinations, visible possession of a firearm during the commission of an offense, had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial and that defendant had a right to a jury trial.

The deficiency with this statute is that those factual determinations do not have to be made at trial, and that defendant--

Thurgood Marshall:

Well, suppose the jury in a special verdict said he did shoot the man, he did rob the man with a pistol?

Leonard N. Sosnov:

--If the jury was given, under Pennsylvania procedure--

Thurgood Marshall:

Yes.

Leonard N. Sosnov:

--special interrogatories that provided the question: did the defendant visibly possess a firearm during the commission of the offense, and the jury was instructed you must find that beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant had a right to a jury determination of that under Pennsylvania law, there would be no constitutional claim.

Warren E. Burger:

Did you ask for that instruction?

Leonard N. Sosnov:

We could not ask for that instruction.

The Act is clear.