The Yale Law Journal

May 2001

Judicial Fact-Finding and Sentence Enhancements in a World of Guilty Pleas

Stephanos Bibas

110 Yale L.J. 1097 (2001)

Last June, in Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court held that any fact that increases a defendant's statutory maximum sentence must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. This rule, like most of criminal procedure law and scholarship, rests on the assumption that jury trials are the norm. In the real world, however, fewer than four percent of defendants go to trial before a jury; the vast majority plead guilty. This Article analyzes Apprendi as a case study in the shortcomings of trial-centered law and scholarship. This benign-seeming trial right will have unintended and perverse consequences in the real world of guilty pleas and Sentencing Guidelines. Apprendi's rule will deprive many defendants who plead guilty of sentencing hearings, promote prosecutorial arbitrariness, and undercut legislative guidance of unelected sentencing commissions. Instead of creating new trial rights that defendants cannot afford to exercise, the Court and scholars should instead focus on regulating guilty pleas and sentencing hearings. This Article proposes alternative solutions better adapted to the real world of guilty pleas and sentencing, such as preplea notice of sentence enhancements and procedural protections at sentencing. This Article concludes by suggesting more broadly how criminal procedure should move beyond its preoccupation with trials to improve the real world of guilty pleas and sentencing.