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    • Brief

    McClinton v. United States

    Brief of Amici Curiae Americans For Prosperity Foundation, Dream Corps Justice, National Association of 
    Criminal Defense Lawyers, Niskanen Center, Right On Crime, The R Street Institute, and The Sentencing Project in Support of Petitioner.


    Argument: A sentencing judge should not be allowed to functionally overrule a jury's tal acquitof a criminal defendant and punish him for that same acquitted conduct. Yet all too many criminal defendants who were acquitted of more serious criminal charges but convicted on one or more lower charges face judges doing just that. How is this constitutionally dubious sentencing practice possible? Put simply, many lower courts have mistakenly overread this Court's per curiam decision in Watts to permit sentencing judges to do what Apprendi and its progeny later prohibited; namely, find facts that increase the punishment beyond that authorized by the jury's findings of guilt. Acquitted-conduct sentencing flips the presumption of innocence on its head by allowing judges to functionally overrule unanimous jury acquittals based on judge-found facts using the far lower preponderance standard, gutting the Sixth Amendment's jury-trial right. At a minimum, the Sixth Amendment jury-trial right, coupled with the due process requirement that all facts necessary to legally authorize punishment must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, should bar judges from using the same alleged conduct a jury acquitted a defendant of to justify dramatically increasing a defendant's Guidelines range and sentence.

    • Brief

    Luna-Aquino v. United States

    Brief of the National Association of Federal Defenders and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioner.


    Argument: This case presents the question of the appropriate mens rea requirement for substantive drug offenses under 21 U.S.C. § 960. Section 960(a), which codifies the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, prohibits “knowingly or intentionally” importing or exporting a controlled substance. Section 960(b), in turn, specifies a series of aggravated offenses—and correspondingly severe punishments—based on the type and quantity of the “controlled substance” involved. See 21 U.S.C. § 960(b). A defendant who imports or distributes 280 grams of crack-cocaine, for instance, faces a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison. Id. § 960(b)(1)(C). A defendant who imports or distributes the same amount of marijuana faces no mandatory minimum and only a five-year statutory maximum. Id. § 960(b)(4) (cross-referencing id. § 841(b)(1)(D)). The question in this case is whether the government can subject a defendant to these escalating mandatory minimums and maximums without proving that he knew which illegal drug he was importing or the quantity of that illegal drug. The answer is no: Courts presume a statutory mens rea requirement applies to “all the material elements of the offense.” Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 2195 (2019) (internal citation omitted). And any fact that increases the statutory minimum or maximum under Section 960 (or any other statute) is an element of an offense. See Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99, 116 (2013); Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 476–85 (2000). Therefore, defendants must know what drug they were importing before a court can subject them to statutorily increased sentences. See United States v. Collazo, 984 F.3d 1308, 1338 (9th Cir. 2021) (en banc) (Fletcher, J., dissenting).