Giving an Acquittal Its Due: Why a Quartet of Sixth Amendment Cases Means the End of United States v. Watts and Acquitted Conduct Sentencing

5 U. Denv. Crim. L. Rev. 173

24 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2020

Date Written: June 1, 2015

Abstract

In United States v. Watts, the Supreme Court established that a sentencing judge may consider acquitted conduct otherwise proven using the preponderance of evidence standard to determine a defendant's sentence. It is a decision that undermines the judicial system's core principle that a defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted by a jury using the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

The holding and reasoning of the Watts decision is called into question by a quartet of Supreme Court sentencing-related decisions that post-date Watts. Taken together -- Apprendi v. New Jersey, Blakely v. Washington, United States v. Booker, and Alleyne v. United States -- this quartet firmly establishes that the a judge's sentencing power begins and ends with the jury's determination using the reasonable doubt standard, and that Watts today cannot survive constitutional scrutiny.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment, sentencing, acquitted conduct

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Outlaw III, Lucius, Giving an Acquittal Its Due: Why a Quartet of Sixth Amendment Cases Means the End of United States v. Watts and Acquitted Conduct Sentencing (June 1, 2015). 5 U. Denv. Crim. L. Rev. 173, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3555114

Lucius Outlaw III (Contact Author)

Howard University School of Law ( email )

2900 Van Ness Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
United States

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