United States v. Watts

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Watts
LOCATION: Attorney General Office

DOCKET NO.: 95-1906
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 519 US 148 (1997)
DECIDED: Jan 06, 1997

Facts of the case

After police discovered cocaine base in his kitchen and two loaded guns in his bedroom, a jury convicted Vernon Watts of possessing cocaine base with intent to distribute. The jury acquitted Watts of using a firearm in relation to a drug offense. By a preponderance of the evidence, the District Court, afterwards, found that Watts had possessed the guns in connection with the drug offense and sentenced him accordingly. In a similar case, authorities videotaped Cheryl Putra selling cocaine to a government informant. A jury convicted Putra of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute one ounce of cocaine, but acquitted her of aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute five ounces of cocaine on a separate occasion. By a preponderance of the evidence, the District Court, afterwards, found that Putra had indeed been involved in the second transaction and sentenced her accordingly. Reversing both cases, separate Courts of Appeals held that sentencing courts could not consider the conduct of the defendants' underlying charges of which they had been acquitted.

Question

May sentencing courts consider the conduct of a defendant's underlying charges of which she or he has been acquitted?