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Name: U.S. v. Doss
Case #: 07-50334
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/15/2011

Since part of the federal enhancement was circumstance-dependent, it required proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Doss was convicted of sex trafficking of children and other offenses, and sentenced to life. He challenged, inter alia, the lower court’s use of a prior conviction to impose mandatory life sentences. Regarding the life sentences, the court reversed and remanded. In imposing sentence the trial court had examined the record of Doss’ prior and found evidence that the offense involved a minor under 17 years of age, as required for the federal enhancement. However, the U. S. Supreme Court in Nijawan v. Holder (2009) 129 S.Ct. 2294 (an immigration case), distinguished between generic offenses (in which a court should look to the statutory elements to determine whether a felony is aggravated) and “circumstance-specific” crimes (where it is appropriate to look at the facts/circumstances of the offense). Here, the reviewing court found that the fact the victim was a minor was not an element of the prior sex conviction. Therefore, a factual determination that a minor victim was involved falls outside the “fact of a prior conviction” exception of Apprendi, and required proof beyond a reasonable doubt.