Betterman v. Montana, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)

Issues: ,

Concurrence (Thomas)




No. 14?1457



on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of montana

[May 19, 2016]

Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Alito joins, concurring.

I agree with the Court that the Sixth Amendment?s Speedy Trial Clause does not apply to sentencing proceedings, except perhaps to bifurcated sentencing proceedings where sentencing enhancements operate as functional elements of a greater offense. See ante, at 2?3, and n.?2. I also agree with the Court?s decision to reserve judgment on whether sentencing delays might violate the Due Process Clause. Ante, at 11. Brandon Betterman?s counsel repeatedly disclaimed that he was raising in this Court a challenge under the Due Process Clause. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 7?8 (?We haven?t included that. We didn?t include that in the question presented, Your Honor?); id.,at 8 (?[W]e are not advancing that claim here?); id., at 19 (?[W]e didn?t preserve a?a due process challenge. Our challenge is solely under the Sixth Amendment?).

We have never decided whether the Due Process Clause creates an entitlement to a reasonably prompt sentencing hearing. Today?s opinion leaves us free to decide the proper analytical framework to analyze such claims if and when the issue is properly before us.

Justice Sotomayor suggests that, for such claims, we should adopt the factors announced in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.?S. 514 ?533 (1972). Post, at 2 (concurring opinion). I would not prejudge that matter. The factors listed in Barker may not necessarily translate to the delayed sentencing context. The Due Process Clause can be satisfied where a State has adequate procedures to redress an improper deprivation of liberty or property. See Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.?S. 527, 537 (1981) . In unusual cases where trial courts fail to sentence a defendant within a reasonable time, a State might fully satisfy due process by making traditional extraordinary legal remedies, such as mandamus, available. Or, much like the federal Speedy Trial Act regulates trials, see 18 U.?S.?C. ?3161, a State might remedy improper sentencing delay by statute.1 ?And a person who sleeps on these remedies, as Betterman did, may simply have no right to complain that his sentencing was delayed. We should await a proper presentation, full briefing, and argument before taking a position on this issue.

The Court thus correctly ?express[es] no opinion on how [Betterman] might fare? under the Due Process Clause. Ante, at 11.


1. ?Montana law, for example, secures the right to a prompt sentencing hearing. See Mont. Code Ann. ?46?18?101(3)(a) (2015) (?Sentencing and punishment must be certain, timely, consistent, and understand-able?); ?46?18?102(3)(a) (?[I]f the verdict or finding is guilty, sentence must be pronounced and judgment rendered within a reasonable time?); ?46?18?115 (?[T]he court shall conduct a sentencing hearing, without unreasonable delay?).