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What Does The Ruling Of Apprendi v. New Jersey Mean For Criminal Defendants?

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court of the United States held that 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. In Apprendi, the Supreme Court considered whether a New Jersey hate crimes statute was constitutional. The essence of the New Jersey statute allowed a jury to convict a defendant of a second degree offense if he or she unlawfully possessed a prohibited weapon. After this, a trial judge was allowed to impose punishment for a first degress offense if the judge found an independent fact that the jury did not make a finding on. In the New Jersey case, the law allowed the trial judge to impose a higher range of punishment than he was convicted for if he found that the defendant possessed the weapon to intimidate a person who possessed a particular characteristic that was more or less constitutionally protected.

The Supreme Court held that this New Jersey law was unconstitutional because the facts that the trial court found the defendant guilty of must be established by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court of Criminal Appeals have found several Texas statutes unconstitutional based on this notion. One in which was a law similiar to the New Jersey law.

This illustrates the long-held principle that a jury must resolve all fact issues, if the defendant so elects to have a jury trial. If you have been charged with a violent crime, such as aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, contact a Plano criminal defense attorney today.