Can a Criminal Sentence Be Increased Even After an Acquittal?

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Hartford Criminal Defense LawyerThe criminal justice system in the United States is meant to be fair, ensuring that those who are accused of crimes can defend themselves and that those who are convicted of crimes will be sentenced appropriately. However, there are many injustices in this system, and defendants often struggle to protect their rights and ensure that they are treated fairly. One issue that has recently received attention is the fact that people who are convicted of crimes may sometimes face longer sentences based on offenses that a jury determined they were not guilty of committing. This practice is known as “acquitted-conduct sentencing,” and it may soon be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What Is Acquitted-Conduct Sentencing?

In many cases, people who are involved in criminal cases will face multiple charges. When a person is convicted on some charges but acquitted on others, they should only be sentenced based on the charges they were actually convicted for. However, in many cases, judges consider other factors that may warrant an increased sentence, including offenses that a person was acquitted of. This means that even when a person is acquitted of a crime, they may face a sentence similar to what they would have received if they had been convicted of that offense.

The case that the Supreme Court has been asked to review, McClinton v. United States, provides an example of how acquitted-conduct sentencing often works. In this case, the defendant was accused of robbing a pharmacy along with several other people. After the robbery, one of the people involved in the robbery was shot and killed, and the defendant was accused of committing the murder. He faced charges of both robbery and homicide. However, the homicide charge was based solely on statements made by three other defendants involved in the robbery, who pleaded guilty and provided testimony in exchange for reduced sentences.

Based on a lack of evidence, the jury in the case acquitted the defendant of the homicide charges but found him guilty of the robbery charges. While the sentence for the robbery charges would normally be between four and six years in prison, the judge in the case decided to consider the accusations of murder, and the defendant was sentenced to a total of 19 years.

The defendant appealed this sentence, but the decision was upheld by an appeals court based on precedents that had been set in previous cases. This decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may review the case to determine whether the defendant’s Constitutional rights were violated. 

The Supreme Court previously addressed this issue in a 1997 case, United States v. Watts, in which a defendant was charged with both drug possession and firearm possession. While the defendant was acquitted of the firearm charge, his prison sentence was increased based on the possession of the firearm. The Supreme Court ruled that while a person may be acquitted because prosecutors could not prove that they were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a judge may base a sentence on a preponderance of the evidence showing that a person engaged in other offenses related to the conviction, which is a lower standard.

In the McClinton case, the Supreme Court may consider whether acquitted-conduct sentencing violates a person’s right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and their right to a trial by jury under the Sixth Amendment. Many criminal justice advocates believe that reforms in this area are long-overdue, since there are numerous examples of people who have faced increased sentences based on crimes for which they have been acquitted. Recently, the U.S. Sentencing Commission proposed an amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines that would limit judges’ ability to consider acquitted conduct when imposing sentences.

Contact Our Hartford Criminal Defense Lawyer

At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we provide representation for clients in a wide variety of criminal cases, and we fight to ensure that their rights are protected throughout the entire legal process. We work to help clients secure acquittals when possible, and we also advocate for fair and appropriate sentences for those who are convicted. To learn more about how we can assist with criminal cases, contact our Connecticut criminal defense attorney at 860-290-8690 and arrange a free consultation today.

 

Sources:

https://newrepublic.com/article/170322/mcclinton-acquitted-conduct-sentencing-kavanaugh

http://uchicagogate.com/articles/2023/1/31/not-guilty-case-against-acquitted-conduct-sentencing/

https://www.reuters.com/legal/us-panel-proposes-limiting-sentencing-defendants-acquitted-conduct-2023-01-12/

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