Cunningham: Eleventh Circuit Joins Other Courts of Appeals in Holding That Alleged Violations of Supervised Release Do Not Implicate Jury Trial and Evidentiary Standards as Applied by Apprendi and Blakely

In late May, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal cases in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, decided U.S. v. Cunningham. The Court held that the federal statute that provides for revocation of supervised release is constitutional under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, despite its provision for reimprisonment of a criminal defendant based upon conduct that is not proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

The supervised release revocation statute is at 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3). It permits a district court to “revoke a term of supervised release, and require the defendant to serve in prison all or part of the term of supervised release” upon a finding “by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant violated a condition of supervised release.”

In 2000, in Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that, other than prior convictions, 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 2004, the Supreme Court explained in Blakely v. Washington that the “statutory maximum” is the maximum sentence a judge may impose based upon the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.

The Eleventh Circuit distinguished the revocation of supervised release from Apprendi and Blakely. The Court reasoned that the defendant was already convicted of the underlying offenses and was granted only conditional liberty, depending upon his obeying the limits of his supervised release. In holding that a violation of supervised release need only be proven to a judge by a preponderance of the evidence, the Court joined six other circuits.

The Cunningham opinion is available here.