On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Asks Supreme Court to Safeguard 6th Amendment, Prevent Judges from Ignoring ‘Not Guilty’ Jury Verdicts in Favor of Harsher Sentences
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Committed to ensuring the continued vitality of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to a jury trial in criminal cases, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of Ball et al. v. United States. In asking the Court to hear the case in which a jury found three men not guilty of conspiracy drug charges, only to have the judge ignore their ruling and sentence them as harshly as if they had been found guilty, Institute attorneys argue for the need to restore the role of the jury from a minimal one to a central role. Moreover, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the Sixth Amendment requires that all persons charged with criminal offenses should only be put at risk for increased punishment and imprisonment on the basis of facts found by a jury of their peers employing the venerable “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
“This alarmingly common practice by unelected federal judges of considering charges that criminal defendants were not convicted of during sentencing usurps the role of the jury and violates the constitutional right of citizens to be judged by a jury of their peers,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “The very idea that judges could be allowed to discard the sound decisions of the jury in favor of their own determination of the facts runs contrary to the principles embodied in the Sixth Amendment, and to the very idea of a trial by a jury of our peers.”
In filing a brief in support of the petitioners in Ball et al. v. United States, Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to review the practice in federal courts that allows judges to consider “relevant conduct” that a defendant was found not guilty of by a jury of his peers, for the purpose of sentencing enhancements decided on by a judge. The case arises out of an incident involving three men, Ball, Jones and Thurston, who were charged in the District of Columbia with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, racketeering, firearms offenses and with selling a “street level” quantity of cocaine. After an eight-month trial involving 106 witnesses, the jury convicted the three of selling very small quantities of drugs but acquitted them of the conspiracy charge. At the urging of the government at sentencing, the judge set the defendants’ sentences as if they were involved in the criminal conspiracy as charged, resulting in a quadrupling of the defendants’ sentences, increasing one defendant’s sentence from less than 3 years to over 16 years. The defendants appealed their sentences to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but the sentences were affirmed.
In May 2014, the defendants filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court asserting that the judge’s use of acquitted conduct in sentencing violated their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial in a criminal case. In supporting the defendants’ petition, The Rutherford Institute’s amicus curiae brief points out that precedent allowing a sentencing judge to ignore the factual findings of the jury is contrary to the historic role and purpose of trial by jury as embodied in the Magna Carta and the Sixth Amendment. Those documents allow imprisonment for crimes only upon the judgment and finding of a “jury of one’s peers.”
The Rutherford Institute was assisted in advancing its arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Ball v. United States by attorneys Justin M. Sadowsky and by Paul M. Heylman and Matthew J. Antonelli of Saul Ewing LLP.