The Sixth Amendment Sentencing Right and Its Remedy

35 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2021

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: January 18, 2021


The Sixth Amendment sentencing doctrine recognizes the right to a jury trial of facts that increase criminal sentences. The doctrine has had only a minimal effect on sentencing because subsequent cases crafting a remedy largely undermined the right. The remedial cases have undermined the Sixth Amendment sentencing right in three notable ways: (1) by repeatedly refusing to recognize that district courts possess an unfettered power to sentence based on nothing more than a policy disagreement; (2) by encouraging appellate court judges to review sentences in a manner that is designed to curtail district court discretion; and (3) by refusing to require district court judges to engage in any independent sentencing analysis. Although the Supreme Court has justified its remedy by reference to historical sentencing practices, these three choices in its remedial cases represent significant departures from historical practice. What is more, the current remedy fails to vindicate the interests protected by the Sixth Amendment—the liberty interests of criminal defendants and democratic input into individual criminal cases. Until and unless the Court revisits its remedial decisions, the Sixth Amendment sentencing right will continue to be little more than a meaningless formalism.

Keywords: sentencing, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court, discretion, jury

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, The Sixth Amendment Sentencing Right and Its Remedy (January 18, 2021). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 99, 2021 Forthcoming, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: or

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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