Criminal Law


Adding more cases daily.


Apprendi v. New Jersey

Facts: Apprendi shoots several bullets into the home of an African-American family who had recently moved into the house. Apprendi stated that he shot into the house because the family was black in color and he did not want them in the neighborhood. He admitted to the crime and the TC judge ruled that this qualified as a hate crime and Apprendi’s sentence should therefore fall into the range of 10-20 years instead of the 5-10 year range which would otherwise me the norm for his offense. He claimed that his 14th Amendment Due Process rights were violated because of this sentence extension without a jury trial and he appealed to the Supreme Court.

Issue: Does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require that a factual determination authorizing an increase (based on it being a hate crime) in the maximum prison sentence for an offense from 10 to 20 years be made by a jury on the basis of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Holding: This was an unacceptable departure from the jury tradition which is indispensable part of our criminal justice system.

Rationale: Other than the fact of a prior condition, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Notes and Questions: Apprendi requires legislatures to state the true max penalty for crimes. However, Apprendi also effectively states that if the max sentence is very high or there is no max sentence at all, there is an unstructured and discretionary sentencing system where the defendant has no meaningful grounds for appealing a sentence.


Proctor v. State

Facts: Under Oklahoma law at the time of this case, the sale of certain alcoholic beverages was unlawful. Proctor (defendant) was convicted under an Oklahoma law that made it a crime to own a building with the “intent” or “for the purpose of” selling such beverages. Proctor appealed on the ground that his ownership of property was a lawful act and that Oklahoma could not criminalize an unlawful intent that was not connected to an overt act. Oklahoma (plaintiff) argued that the state under its police power could determine that Proctor’s ownership of property was an overt act in furtherance of his unlawful intent.

Issue: Should the demurrer on the ground that the information failed to charge a public offense have been overruled and, therefore, did the court error in convicting the Plaintiff of “keeping a place, to wit, a two story building, with the intent and for the purpose of unlawfully selling, barterning, and giving away spirituous, vinous, fermendted and malt liquors”?

Rule: To constitute a crime, there must be some omission or commission of an overt act.

Holding: The keeping of a place with the unlawful purpose and intent to sell, barter or give away intoxicating liquors cannot be declared to be a crime.

Rationale: Such an act, although connected with an unlawful intent, still lacks an essential element necessary to constitute a crime under the law, which is that the statute fails to connect such unlawful intent with any overt act.

Purpose of the Act Requirement (Prof. Herbert Packer): It is important in a society that describes itself as free and open, that the government should be empowered to coerce only for what they do and not for what they are.