477 U.S. 79 (1986), 85-215, McMillan v. Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:No. 85-215
Citation:477 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 91 L.Ed.2d 67, 54 U.S.L.W. 4709
Party Name:McMillan v. Pennsylvania
Case Date:June 19, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 79

477 U.S. 79 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2411, 91 L.Ed.2d 67, 54 U.S.L.W. 4709

McMillan

v.

Pennsylvania

No. 85-215

United States Supreme Court

June 19, 1986

Argued March 4, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Syllabus

Pennsylvania's Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Act (Act) provides that anyone convicted of certain enumerated felonies is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment if the sentencing judge -- upon considering the evidence introduced at the trial and any additional evidence offered by either the defendant or the Commonwealth at the sentencing hearing -- finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant "visibly possessed a firearm" during the commission of the offense. The Act, which also provides that visible possession shall not be an element of the crime, operates to divest the judge of discretion to impose any sentence of less than five years for the underlying felony, but does not authorize a sentence in excess of that otherwise allowed for the offense. Each of the petitioners was convicted of one of the Act's enumerated felonies, and in each case the Commonwealth gave notice that at sentencing it would seek to proceed under the Act. However, each of the sentencing judges found the Act unconstitutional and imposed a lesser sentence than that required by the Act. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court consolidated the Commonwealth's appeals, vacated petitioners' sentences, and remanded for sentencing pursuant to the Act. The court held that the Act was consistent with due process, rejecting petitioners' principal argument that visible possession of a firearm was an element of the crimes for which they were sentenced, and thus must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt under In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, and Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684.

Held:

1. A State may properly treat visible possession of a firearm as a sentencing consideration rather than an element of a particular offense that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. This case is controlled by Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, which rejected a claim that, whenever a State links the "severity of punishment" to the "presence or absence of an identified fact" the State must prove that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. While there are constitutional limits beyond which the States may [106 S.Ct. 2413] not go in this regard, the applicability of the reasonable doubt standard is usually dependent on how a State defines the offense that is charged in any given case. Here, the Pennsylvania Legislature has made visible possession of a firearm a sentencing factor that comes into play only after the defendant has been found guilty of one of the

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enumerated crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, and the constitutional limits to a State's power are not exceeded by the Act, which only raises the minimum sentence that may be imposed and neither alters the maximum sentence nor creates a separate offense calling for a separate penalty. Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, distinguished. Pp. 84-91.

2. There is no merit to petitioners' contention that, even though States may treat visible possession of a firearm as a sentencing consideration, rather than an element of a particular offense, due process nonetheless requires that visible possession be proved by at least clear and convincing evidence. The preponderance standard satisfies due process. Sentencing courts have traditionally heard evidence and found facts without any prescribed burden of proof at all. Nothing in Pennsylvania's scheme warrants constitutionalizing burdens of proof at sentencing. Pp. 91-93.

3. Nor is there merit to petitioners' claim that the Act denies them their Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury. There is no Sixth Amendment right to jury sentencing, even where the sentence turns on specific findings of fact. P. 93.

508 Pa. 25, 494 A.2d 354, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 93. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 96.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider the constitutionality, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the jury trial guarantee of the Sixth Amendment, of Pennsylvania's Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Act, 42 Pa.Cons.Stat. § 9712 (1982) (the Act).

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I

The Act was adopted in 1982. It provides that anyone convicted of certain enumerated felonies is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment if the sentencing judge finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the person "visibly possessed a firearm" during the commission of the offense. At the sentencing hearing, the judge is directed to consider the evidence introduced at trial and any additional evidence offered by either the defendant or the Commonwealth. § 9712(b).1 The Act operates to divest

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[106 S.Ct. 2414] the judge of discretion to impose any sentence of less than five years for the underlying felony; it does not authorize a sentence in excess of that otherwise allowed for that offense.

Each petitioner was convicted of, among other things, one of § 9712's enumerated felonies. Petitioner McMillan, who shot his victim in the right buttock after an argument over a debt, was convicted by a jury of aggravated assault. Petitioner Peterson shot and killed her husband and, following a bench trial, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Petitioner Dennison shot and seriously wounded an acquaintance and was convicted of aggravated assault after a bench trial. Petitioner Smalls robbed a seafood store at gunpoint; following a bench trial, he was convicted of robbery. In each case, the Commonwealth gave notice that, at sentencing, it would seek to proceed under the Act. No § 9712 hearing was held, however, because each of the sentencing judges before whom petitioners appeared found the Act unconstitutional; each imposed a lesser sentence than that required by the Act.2

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The Commonwealth appealed all four cases to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. That court consolidated the appeals and unanimously concluded that the Act is consistent with due process. Commonwealth v. Wright, 508 Pa. 25, 494 A.2d 354 (1985). Petitioners' principal argument was that visible possession of a firearm is an element of the crimes for which they were being sentenced, and thus must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt under In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), and Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975). After observing that the legislature had expressly provided that visible possession "shall not be an element of the crime," § 9712(b), and that the reasonable doubt standard "`has always been dependent on how a state defines the offense'" in question, 508 Pa. at 34, 494 A.2d at 359, quoting Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 211, n. 12 (1977), the court rejected the claim that the Act effectively creates a new set of upgraded felonies of which visible possession is an "element." Section 9712, which comes into play only after the defendant has been convicted of an enumerated felony, neither provides for an increase in the maximum sentence for such felony nor [106 S.Ct. 2415] authorizes a separate sentence; it merely requires a minimum sentence of five years, which may be more or less than the minimum sentence that might otherwise have been imposed. And consistent with Winship, Mullaney, and Patterson, the Act "creates no presumption as to any essential fact, and places no burden on the defendant"; it "in no way relieve[s] the prosecution of its burden of proving guilt." 508 Pa. at 35, 494 A.2d at 359.

Petitioners also contended that, even if visible possession is not an element of the offense, due process requires more than proof by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected this claim as well, holding that the preponderance standard satisfies due process under the approach set out in Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979). The Commonwealth's interest in deterring the illegal use of firearms and in sure punishment for those who

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commit crimes with guns is as compelling as a convicted defendant's contervailing liberty interest, which has been substantially diminished by a guilty verdict. Moreover, the risk of error in the context of a § 9712 proceeding is comparatively slight -- visible possession is a simple, straightforward issue susceptible of objective proof. On balance, the court concluded, it is reasonable for the defendant and the Commonwealth to share equally in any risk of error. The court vacated petitioners' sentences and remanded for sentencing pursuant to the Act. One justice concurred and filed a separate opinion.

We granted certiorari, 474 U.S. 815 (1985), and now affirm.

II

Petitioners argue that, under the Due Process Clause as interpreted in Winship and Mullaney, if a State wants to punish visible possession of a firearm, it must undertake the burden of proving that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. We disagree. Winship held that

the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.

397 U.S. at 364. In Mullaney v. Wilbur, we held that the Due Process Clause

requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the absence of the heat of passion on sudden provocation when the issue is properly presented in a homicide case.

421 U.S. at 704. But in Patterson, we rejected the claim that, whenever a State links the "severity of punishment" to "the presence or absence of an identified fact," the State must prove that fact beyond a reasonable doubt. 432 U.S. at 214; see also id. at 207 (State...

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