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Abstract

In determining which constitutional procedural rights apply at sentencing, courts have distinguished between mandatory and discretionary sentencing systems. For mandatory systems—systems that limit sentencing factors and specify particular punishments based on particular facts—defendants enjoy important rights including the right to a jury, the right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to notice of potential sentencing aggravators, and the right not to be sentenced based on ex post facto laws. By contrast, for discretionary systems—systems that leave the determination of sentencing factors and how much punishment to impose based on particular facts to the judge’s discretion—defendants do not enjoy these protections. This Article challenges this discrepancy. It argues that, given the rationales underlying each of these rights, there is equal reason to apply these rights in discretionary sentencing systems as in mandatory ones. As it explains, procedural rights regulate the means by which facts are found and the manner in which courts use those facts, and consequently are critical to discretionary systems. Just as in mandatory sentencing systems, judges in discretionary systems must make factual findings to determine the appropriate sentence to impose. This Article argues that the various justifications for providing fewer procedures in discretionary schemes are based on misconceptions about the nature of discretion at sentencing and inaccurate historical analysis.

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