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Supreme Court Backs Defendants’ Rights to Jury Decisions  

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with criminal defendants saying juries, not judges, must decide certain facts about whether a person is a habitual offender qualifying for a tougher sentence. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion in the case, Erlinger v. United States, for a 6-3 court on Friday. Defendant Paul Erlinger had argued that a group of his peers must be the decider of fact that would enhance a criminal sentence. Erlinger was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm under the oft-litigated Armed Career Criminal Act. He received a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence based on previous burglary convictions, reports Bloomberg Law.


“The Sixth Amendment promises that ‘[i]n all criminal prosecutions the accused’ has ‘the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.’” Gorsuch wrote. “Inherent in that guarantee is an assurance that any guilty verdict will issue only from a unanimous jury.” He then goes on to cite the Fifth Amendment tenet, that the government may not deprive individuals of their liberty without due process of law. “It safeguards for criminal defendants well-established common-law protections, including the ‘ancient rule’ that the government must prove to a jury every one of its charges beyond a reasonable doubt, Gorsuch wrote. “Together, these Amendments place the jury at the heart of our criminal justice system and ensure a judge’s power to punish is derived wholly from, and remains always controlled by, the jury and its verdict.”

 

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