United States v. Jackson Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Defendant, Jackson, robbed a bank after he was released from prison on a work release program. Jackson had just finished serving two conviction sentences for robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison under a statute which provided that anyone with three previous felony convictions for robbery or burglary (or both) who possesses a firearm shall be imprisoned not less than fifteen years without the possibility of parole. Jackson had been previously convicted of four armed bank robberies and one armed robbery.

Facts of the case


Was the imposition of life in prison on Jackson permissible?


Yes. Judge Easterbrook delivered the opinion of the court. Defendant agrees that the statute permitted the imposition of any term of years but insists that it allowed only a determinate numbers of years and therefore did not authorize a life sentence. When parole is forbidden, a judge may use either method to reach the same result.
Jackson was thirty-five years old when he committed the crime. Unless there are major advances in medicine, a long term of imprisonment (e.g., 60 years) and life are the essentially the same sentence. It would be ridiculous to read the statute as authorizing one but not the other. Jackson was a career criminal who committed armed robbery on the day of his release following earlier armed robbery convictions dating back to the early 1970’s. Specific deterrence had failed.


  • Case Brief: 1968
  • Appellant: United States
  • Appellee: Jackson
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 390 US 570 (1968)
Argued: Dec 7, 1967
Decided: Apr 8, 1968