Solving the Williams Puzzle

33 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2005

See all articles by Kyron Huigens

Kyron Huigens

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law


In the 1949 case of Williams v. New York, the United State Supreme Court approved of judicial factfinding as a feature of discretionary sentencing. The Court's more recent ban on judicial factfinding in determinate sentencing systems would seem to apply to discretionary sentencing systems as well, implying that Williams is no longer good law. If a sentencing judge may find facts in the exercise of discretionary sentencing as a matter of due process, then a legislature's attempt to introduce rule of law values into sentencing by creating a determinate sentencing regime hardly seems to call for constitutional limitations on judicial factfinding. And yet, the Court has not only left Williams intact, but embraced it in Booker v. United States as a remedy for the Federal Sentencing Guidelines' inconsistency with Blakely.

This Essay offers a rationale for the continued viability of Williams and the continued practice of unconstrained judicial factfinding in discretionary sentencing systems. Professor Huigens describes and compares the normative architecture of offense definition and adjudication to that of sentencing in terms of two fundamental and competing values in criminal law: legality and fine-grainedness. He argues that if a legislature chooses to impose the normative architecture of offense definition and adjudication onto sentencing, then the constitutional regulation appropriate to offense definition and adjudication is made relevant to sentencing. This is a normative argument, but one that is compelling in light of an increased conceptual clarity about the fundamental values and normative architecture of criminal law.

Suggested Citation

Huigens, Kyron, Solving the Williams Puzzle. Available at SSRN:

Kyron Huigens (Contact Author)

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )

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