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Justices say juries, not judges, must decide facts

By Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Stempel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that juries and not judges should be entitled to draw conclusions about facts in trials that could result in longer minimum sentences.

The court ruled on a 5-4 vote that Allen Alleyne, convicted for his role in the 2009 robbery of a convenience store in Richmond, Va., should be resentenced after a judge imposed a higher minimum sentence for a firearms offense based on his own conclusions about the facts.

The jury found that Alleyne had not brandished a gun, which would have meant a stiffer sentence. The judge disagreed.

In reaching its conclusion the court, threw out a 12-year-old precedent, Harris v. U.S., in which the court allowed judges to conduct fact-finding that could lead to longer minimum sentences.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the precedent was inconsistent with a 2000 ruling in a case dealing with maximum sentences called Apprendi v. New Jersey, in which the court ruled that juries must decide facts that lead to a longer sentence.

The case is Alleyne v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-9335.

(Reporting By Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and David Brunnstrom)