Miller v. Florida
Decided on June 9, 1987; 482 US 423


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal Justice (procedure), Article 1, Section 10 of the Ex Post Facto Clause

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Is the application of amended federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutional by virtue of the Ex Post Facto (retroactive law) Clause?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Petitioner was convicted in August 1984 on counts of sexual battery with slight force, a second-degree felony, burglary with an assault weapon, a felony of the first degree punishable by life, and petit theft, a misdemeanor. When these offenses were committed the sentencing guidelines adopted October 1, 1983 were still in effect. On May 8, 1984, the Supreme Court of Florida proposed several revisions to the sentencing guidelines. By the time the petitioner was sentenced these revised sentencing guidelines were effective.

There are two relevant changes to the guidelines. One changed the definition of “primary offense” from the offense with “the highest statutory degree,” to the offense which results in “the most severe sentence range.” This changed petitioner's primary offense from burglary with assault - the offense with the higher statutory degree - to sexual battery.  The revisions also increased the primary offense points by 20% and resulted in both increased rates and length of incarceration for sexual offenders. As a result of the point increase, petitioner's total point score jumped from a 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years sentence to a presumptive sentence of 5 1/2 to 7 years. The sentencing judge, rejecting petitioner's ex post facto argument, applied the revised guidelines to impose a 7-year sentence. The State District Court of Appeals vacated the sentence, but the State Supreme Court reversed.  The US Supreme Court granted Certiorari to resolve the issue between the lower courts.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Anthony Calvello argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Richard L. Jorandby and Craig S. Barnard.
Joy B. Shearer, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief was Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General of Florida.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Gerald D. Stern and Alvin Bronstein filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, et al., as amicus curiae urging reversal. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Respondent.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The United States Constitution provides that neither Congress nor any State shall pass any ex post facto Law. To fall within the ex post facto prohibition, two critical elements must be present: first, the law ‘must be retrospective...' and second, 'it must disadvantage the offender affected by it.’ Further, no ex post facto violation occurs if a change does not alter ‘substantial personal rights,’ but merely changes ‘modes of procedure which do not affect matters of substance...'

The revised guidelines law is retrospective in that it changes the legal consequences of acts committed before its effective date. Even though the law provided for continuous review of the guidelines, it did not provide the petitioner with 'fair warning' that he would be sentenced under the guidelines in effect on his sentencing date. 'The law did not warn petitioner of the specific punishment prescribed for his crimes. The ex post facto prohibition cannot be avoided merely by adding to a law notice of the obvious fact that it might be changed.'

Petitioner plainly has been ‘substantially disadvantaged’ by the change in sentencing laws. To impose a 7-year sentence under the old guidelines, the sentencing judge would have to depart from the presumptive sentence range of 3 1/2 -4 1/2 years. Under the revised law, the 7-year sentence is within the presumptive range and the trial judge did not have to provide any reasons, convincing or otherwise, for imposing the sentence, and his decision was unreviewable.
 
The revised guidelines law is not merely a procedural change, it increased the quantum of punishment for category 2 crimes. Additionally, the revised guidelines do not simply provide flexible 'guideposts,' but instead create strict standards that must be met before the sentencing judge can depart from the presumptive sentence range.”
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • O’Connor, S. Pro (Wrote the majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
 
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus curiae urging reversal. The United States Supreme Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court's decision in a unanimous 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win