Jones v U.S.

Citation119 S.Ct. 1215,526 U.S. 227,143 L.Ed.2d 311
Decision Date24 March 1999
Docket Number976203
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case turns on whether the federal carjacking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2119 as it was when petitioner was charged, defined three distinct offenses or a single crime with a choice of three maximum penalties, two of them dependent on sentencing factors exempt from the requirements of charge and jury verdict. We think the better reading is of three distinct offenses, particularly in light of the rule that any interpretive uncertainty should be resolved to avoid serious questions about the statute's constitutionality.


In December 1992, petitioner, Nathaniel Jones, and two others, Oliver and McMillan, held up two men, Mutanna and Mardaie. While Jones and McMillan went through the victims' pockets, Oliver stuck his gun in Mutanna's left ear, and later struck him on the head. Oliver and McMillan made their getaway in the Cadillac Jones had driven to the scene, while Jones forced Mardaie into Mutanna's Honda and drove off after them. After stopping to put Mardaie out, Jones sped away in the stolen car subject to police pursuit, which ended when Jones crashed into a telephone pole. United States v. Oliver, 60 F.3d 547, 549 (CA9 1995); Tr. 159, 387, 310 (July 27 28, 1993).

A grand jury in the Eastern District of California indicted Jones and his two accomplices on two counts: using or aiding and abetting the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and carjacking or aiding and abetting carjacking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119 which then read as follows:

"Whoever, possessing a firearm as defined in section 921 of this title, takes a motor vehicle that has been transported, shipped, or received in interstate or foreign commerce from the person or presence of another by force and violence or by intimidation, or attempts to do so, shall

"(1) be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both,

"(2) if serious bodily injury (as defined in section 1365 of this title) results, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 25 years, or both, and

"(3) if death results, be fined under this title or imprisoned for any number of years up to life, or both." 18 U.S.C. § 2119 (1988 ed., Supp. V).1

The indictment made no reference to the statute's numbered subsections and charged none of the facts mentioned in the latter two, and at the arraignment the Magistrate Judge told Jones that he faced a maximum sentence of 15 years on the carjacking charge. App. 4 5, 7. Consistently with this advice, the District Court's subsequent jury instructions defined the elements subject to the Government's burden of proof by reference solely to the first paragraph of §2119, with no mention of serious bodily injury. Id., at 10. The jury found Jones guilty on both counts.

The case took a new turn, however, with the arrival of the presentence report, which recommended that petitioner be sentenced to 25 years for the carjacking because one of the victims had suffered serious bodily injury. The report noted that Mutanna had testified that Oliver's gun caused profuse bleeding in Mutanna's ear, and that a physician had concluded that Mutanna had suffered a perforated eardrum, with some numbness and permanent hearing loss. Id., at 15 16; 60 F.3d, at 554. Jones objected that the 25-year recommendation was out of bounds, since serious bodily injury was an element of the offense defined in part by §2119(2), which had been neither pleaded in the indictment nor proven before the jury. App. 12 13. The District Court saw the matter differently and, based on its finding that the serious bodily injury allegation was supported by a preponderance of the evidence, imposed a 25-year sentence on the carjacking count, ibid., together with a consecutive 5-year sentence for the firearm offense, 60 F.3d, at 549.

Like the trial court, the Court of Appeals did not read §2119(2) as setting out an element of an independent offense.2 Id., at 551 554. The Ninth Circuit thus agreed with the Eleventh, see United States v. Williams, 51 F.3d 1004, 1009 1010 (1995), in reasoning that the structure of the statute, particularly the grammatical dependence of the numbered subsections on the first paragraph, demonstrated Congress's understanding that the subsections did not complete the definitions of separate crimes. 60 F.3d, at 552 553. For its view that the subsections provided sentencing factors, the court found additional support in the statute's legislative history. The heading on the subtitle of the bill creating §2119 was "Enhanced Penalties for Auto Theft," which the court took as indicating that the statute's numbered subsections merely defined sentencing enhancements. Id., at 553. The court also noted several references in the Committee Reports and floor debate on the bill to enhanced penalties for an apparently single carjacking offense. Ibid. Because of features arguably distinguishing this case from Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224 (1998), we granted certiorari, 523 U.S. 1045 (1998), and now reverse.


Much turns on the determination that a fact is an element of an offense rather than a sentencing consideration, given that elements must be charged in the indictment, submitted to a jury, and proven by the Government beyond a reasonable doubt. See, e.g., Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117 (1974); United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 509 510 (1995). Accordingly, some statutes come with the benefit of provisions straightforwardly addressing the distinction between elements and sentencing factors. See McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 85 86 (1986) (express identification of statutory provision as sentencing factor). Even without any such help, however, §2119 at first glance has a look to it suggesting that the numbered subsections are only sentencing provisions. It begins with a principal paragraph listing a series of obvious elements (possession of a firearm, taking a motor vehicle, connection with interstate commerce, and so on). That paragraph comes close to standing on its own, followed by sentencing provisions, the first of which, subsection (1), certainly adds no further element. But the superficial impression loses clarity when one looks at the penalty subsections (2) and (3). These not only provide for steeply higher penalties, but condition them on further facts (injury, death) that seem quite as important as the elements in the principal paragraph (e.g., force and violence, intimidation). It is at best questionable whether the specification of facts sufficient to increase a penalty range by two-thirds, let alone from 15 years to life, was meant to carry none of the process safeguards that elements of an offense bring with them for a defendant's benefit. The "look" of the statute, then, is not a reliable guide to congressional intentions, and the Government accordingly advances two, more subtle structural arguments for its position that the fact specified in subsection (2) is merely a sentencing factor.

Like the Court of Appeals, the Government stresses that the statute's numbered subsections do not stand alone in defining offenses, most of whose elements on anyone's reckoning are set out in the statute's opening paragraph. This integrated structure is said to suggest that the statute establishes only a single offense. To the same point, the Government argues that the numbered subsections come after the word "shall," which often divides offense-defining provisions from those that specify sentences. Brief for United States 15 18. While these points are sound enough as far as they go, they are far short of dispositive even on their own terms, whereas they are weakened here by a number of countervailing structural considerations. First, as petitioner notes, Reply Brief for Petitioner 1 2, if the shorter subsection (2) of §2119 does not stand alone, neither does the section's more voluminous first paragraph. In isolation, it would merely describe some very obnoxious behavior, leaving any reader assuming that it must be a crime, but never being actually told that it is. Only the numbered subsidiary provisions complete the thought. Section 2119 is thus unlike most offense-defining provisions in the federal criminal code, which genuinely stand on their own grammatical feet thanks to phrases such as "shall be unlawful," see, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), "shall be punished," see, e.g., §511A(a), or "shall be guilty of," see, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 514 (1994 ed., Supp. II), which draw a provision to its close. Second, as for the significance of the word "shall," although it frequently separates offense-defining clauses from sentencing provisions, it hardly does so invariably. One of the robbery statutes that served as a model for §2119,3 see 18 U.S.C. § 2118(a)(3), (b)(3), for example, places elements of the offense on either side of "shall." And, of course, where the supposedly "elements" side is itself grammatically incomplete (as here), the placement of "shall" is oddly equivocal. Indeed, both the Government and the Courts of Appeals treat the statute perhaps most closely resembling this one, §1365(a) (consumer tampering), as defining basic and aggravated offenses, one of which is defined in terms of serious bodily injury. See, e.g., United States v. Meling, 47 F.3d 1546, 1551 (CA9 1995).

These clues derived from attention to structure and parsing of wording, like those the dissent holds up to distinguish the carjacking act both from the robbery statutes upon which it was modeled and state aggravated robbery statutes, see post, at 7 9, 10 11, turn out to...

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