You don’t see this every day. Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Thomas and Ginsburg, dissented from the denial of certiorari on a substantive unreasonableness sentencing case:
A jury convicted petitioners Joseph Jones, Desmond Thurston, and Antwuan Ball of distributing very small amounts of crack cocaine, and acquitted them of conspir- ing to distribute drugs. The sentencing judge, however, found that they had engaged in the charged conspiracy and, relying largely on that finding, imposed sentences that petitioners say were many times longer than those the Guidelines would otherwise have recommended.
Petitioners present a strong case that, but for the judge’s finding of fact, their sentences would have been “substantively unreasonable” and therefore illegal. See Rita v. United States, 551 U. S. 338, 372 (2007) (SCALIA, J., joined by THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concur- ring in judgment). If so, their constitutional rights were violated. The Sixth Amendment, together with the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, “requires that each element of a crime” be either admitted by the defendant, or “proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.” Alleyne v. United States, 570 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 3). Any fact that increases the penalty to which a defendant is exposed constitutes an element of a crime, Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U. S. 466, 483, n. 10, 490 (2000), and “must be found by a jury, not a judge,” Cunningham v. California, 549 U. S. 270, 281 (2007).* We have held that a substantively unreasonable penalty is illegal and must be set aside. Gall v. United States, 552 U. S. 38, 51 (2007). It unavoidably follows that any fact necessary to prevent a sentence from being substantively unreasonable—thereby exposing the defendant to the longer sentence—is an element that must be either admitted by the defendant or found by the jury. It may not be found by a judge.
Here is the conclusion:
This has gone on long enough. The present petition presents the nonhypothetical case the Court claimed to have been waiting for. And it is a particularly appealing case, because not only did no jury convict these defendants of the offense the sentencing judge thought them guilty of, but a jury acquitted them of that offense. Petitioners were convicted of distributing drugs, but acquitted of conspiring to distribute drugs. The sentencing judge found that petitioners had engaged in the conspiracy of which the jury acquitted them. The Guidelines, petitioners claim, recommend sentences of between 27 and 71 months for their distribution convictions. But in light of the conspir- acy finding, the court calculated much higher Guidelines ranges, and sentenced Jones, Thurston, and Ball to 180, 194, and 225 months’ imprisonment.
On petitioners’ appeal, the D. C. Circuit held that even if their sentences would have been substantively unreasona- ble but for judge-found facts, their Sixth Amendment rights were not violated. 744 F. 3d 1362, 1369 (2014). We should grant certiorari to put an end to the unbroken string of cases disregarding the Sixth Amendment—or to eliminate the Sixth Amendment difficulty by acknowledg- ing that all sentences below the statutory maximum are substantively reasonable.