United States v. Booker

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Freddie J. Booker
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 04-104
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 543 US 220 (2005)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 2004
DECIDED: Jan 12, 2005

John S. Martin, Jr. - for an Ad Hoc Group of Former Federal Judges as amici curiae in both cases
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Petitioners
Rosemary Curran Scapicchio - argued the cause for Respondent Fanfan
T. Christopher Kelly - argued the cause for Respondent Booker

Facts of the case

In Blakely v. Washington (2004) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury required judges to use only facts proved to a jury to increase a sentence beyond the standard range.

Following U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, a federal district court judge enhanced Freddie Booker's sentence based on facts the judge determined. Booker appealed and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the guidelines violated the Sixth Amendment where they required sentences to be based on facts found by a judge.

In another case, U.S. Sentencing Guidelines allowed a judge to sentence Ducan Fanfan to 188-235 months in prison based on facts the judge determined. The judge decided Blakely v. Washington prevented him from enhancing the sentence and sentenced Fanfan to 78 months. The federal government appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court consolidated the Booker and Fanfan cases.


1.) Does an enhanced sentence under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines based on the judge's determination of a fact violate the Sixth Amendment? 2.) If so, are the Sentencing Guidelines altogether unconstitutional?

Media for United States v. Booker

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 04, 2004 in United States v. Booker

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 2005 in United States v. Booker

John Paul Stevens:

I have an opinion to announce in United States against Booker and United States against Fanfan.

These cases present two questions: The first whether a sentence imposed pursuant to the federal sentencing guidelines violates the Sixth Amendment when it is made more severe by facts that were not found by a jury or admitted by the defendant but instead were found a by judge.

Following our decisions in Appredi against New Jersey, Jones against the United States, Ring against Arizona and Blakely against Washington, we answer that question in the affirmative and hold that the applications of the sentencing guidelines in these cases violated the Sixth Amendment.

That holding leads the Court to a second question, whether the remedy for these unconstitutional applications makes it necessary to invalidate all or any part of the guidelines.

In a separate opinion for the Court, Justice Breyer explains the Court's holding that two provisions of the federal sentencing statute must be invalidated in all of their applications in order to conform the guidelines to the requirement of the Sixth Amendment.

Respondent, Booker was charged under a federal statute that criminalizes possession with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of crack cocaine.

The jury found him guilty of violating the statute on the basis of evidence that he had carried 92 grams of crack in his duffel bag.

The specific statutory provision under which Booker was prosecuted sets a minimum sentence of 10 years of imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life.

However, the judge did not have the discretion to impose any sentence within that range.

Rather under the federal sentencing guidelines, the combination of the jury's finding that he possessed 92 grams of crack and the judge's evaluation of Booker's criminal history established a maximum sentence of 262 months in prison.

That sentencing range was increased when the judge made his own findings based on the preponderance of the evidence that Booker actually possessed an additional 566 grams of crack and was guilty of obstructing justice.

Under the guidelines, those additional findings required the judge to impose a sentence between 360 months and life imprisonment.

The sentence that the judge actually imposed was over eight years longer than the sentence Booker could have received based solely on the facts found by the jury.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Booker's sentence violated the Sixth Amendment right to be tried by an impartial jury.

The Court's decision was based on the principle we applied in Appredi and Blakely.

Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Under the guidelines, the relevant "statutory maximum" is the maximum sentence that a judge may lawfully impose solely on the basis of facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.

The government filed a petition for certiorari which we granted along with its petition for certiorari before judgment in a similar care that rose in the District Court for the District of Maine.

We consolidated the two cases to consider whether those Courts had correctly concluded that our decision in Blakely applies to the federal sentencing guidelines.

In agreement with those Courts, we now hold that there is no distinction of constitutional significance between the federal sentencing guidelines and the sentencing procedure we held invalid in Blakely.

Our dissenting colleagues in that case properly recognized that the structure of the federal system does not provide any grounds for distinction.

Like the federal guidelines, the Washington sentencing regime was binding on judges.

It required sentencing judges to impose a standard sentence within a narrow range that could be exceeded only if judges made additional factual findings.

Under such a sentencing regime, criminal defendants are entitled to a determinant sentence that can be raised or lowered on the basis of specific factual findings.

Given the impact of such findings on the defendant's liberty, the Sixth Amendment includes the right to insist that a jury find such facts beyond a reasonable doubt regardless of whether they are labeled elements of a crime or sentencing factors.

This understanding of the Sixth Amendment not only reflects our common law tradition but also is essential if the right to a jury trial is to retain its functional content in the context of modern determinant sentencing regime.

The fact that the guidelines were promulgated by the sentencing commission rather than by Congress does not affect the constitutional infirmity in Booker's sentence.

The guidelines functionally operate a statutory maximum despite the fact that they are written by a commission by binding the discretion of sentencing judges with indeterminate ranges.

We are similarly unpersuaded by the government's argument that our holding is inconsistent with separation of powers principles or with any of our prior cases.

Accordingly, following Apprendi, Jones, Ring and Blakely, we hold that any fact other than the fact of a prior conviction that has the effect of increasing a defendant's maximum sentence under the sentencing guidelines, must be admitted by the defendant or proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.