Applying Apprendi to Jury Sentencing: Why State Felony Jury Sentencing Threatens the Right to a Jury Trial

Jury sentencing may offer an alternative to traditional judicial sentencing models, but at what cost? After the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey that only a jury can find aggravating factors that increase a defendant’s sentence beyond the statutory maximum, interest in the possibilities of jury sentencing in noncapital cases has resurfaced in the scholarly community. In the states where jury sentencing procedures are utilized, however, prosecutors often use the threat of jury sentencing mechanisms to undermine defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. This Note examines the problems with jury sentencing mechanisms, particularly when a jury sentence is mandatory in conjunction with a jury trial, and it disputes the notion that the Apprendi line of cases supports an increased sentencing role for jurors under the Sixth Amendment.The author begins with an overview of Apprendi and subsequent Supreme Court cases which have caused a resurgence in juror sentencing scholarship over the past decade. She also describes the jury sentencing systems in the six states that utilize them: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. She then analyzes Apprendi and juror sentencing models, determining that, based on a historical analysis, the Sixth Amendment only protects juror determination of culpability, and that mandatory and pseudomandatory juror sentencing systems undermine the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial by causing defendants to plead guilty or elect a bench trial to avoid an arbitrary jury sentence. The author recommends that, in states where juror sentencing is utilized, states adopt elective juror sentencing systems where a defendant can choose a jury trial and judicially determined sentence. She further recommends the adoption of juror sentencing guidelines to assist jurors in making consistent sentencing determinations.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.