Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On The Supreme Court’s Decision In Alleyne v. United States

The Supreme Court ruled today in Alleyne v. United States that facts underlying a mandatory minimum sentence must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  Previously, these sentences could be imposed using a much lower standard of proof and without a jury finding.  The Court’s decision overrules prior case law that allowed severe mandatory sentences to be imposed based on this lower standard.  Justice Thomas, in his opinion for the majority, concluded that this practice violated the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

“I continue to believe that our criminal justice system’s reliance on mandatory minimum sentences is a mistake.  In March, Senator Paul and I introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 to give federal judges greater flexibility in sentencing in cases where a mandatory minimum is unnecessary and counterproductive.  Mandatory minimum sentences have imprisoned some people, particularly non-violent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial.  As a result, the federal prison population has exploded in recent years and has placed an enormous strain on the Justice Department’s budget.  That means less money for federal law enforcement, less aid to state and local law enforcement, and less funding for crime prevention programs and prisoner reentry programs.  Sentencing reform has worked at the state level and the Justice Safety Valve Act is an important step toward the sentencing reform that our federal system desperately needs.  I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision today in Alleyne.”

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