Brenna Nouray

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This Comment examines the phenomenon of acquitted-conduct sentencing—a practice that allows a sentencing judge to enhance a criminal defendant’s sentence due to conduct for which he has already been acquitted. Seventeen-year-old Dayonta McClinton is one of many criminal defendants who have unjustly suffered at the hands of this practice when he received a thirteen-year enhancement because of conduct for which he already received a verdict of not guilty from a jury. This Comment argues that acquitted-conduct sentencing is unconstitutional, as it violates both the reasonable doubt standard required under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the jury trial right of the Sixth Amendment. This Comment additionally criticizes acquitted-conduct sentencing on policy grounds, specifically in the context of our entrenched guilty plea system. This Comment begins by briefly discussing the Sentencing Guidelines and its “relevant conduct” provision, as well as outlining the complications and contradictions inherent in the Supreme Court’s sentencing jurisprudence, especially in the wake of United States v. Booker. This Comment further explains that the only viable solution to this problem is through Supreme Court action, even though the Court denied certiorari in McClinton’s case in the 2023 term. This Comment argues that the Supreme Court must conclusively declare the unconstitutionality of acquitted-conduct sentencing and overrule United States v. Watts, as this practice is not only wholly incompatible with the Constitution but also with how we perceive justice.