Justice Stevens died last Tuesday at age 99. Over more than 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, he authored critical majority and dissenting opinions on issues central to white collar criminal enforcement—indeed to criminal law generally. To start, he authored several of the decisions that have transformed criminal sentencing. One of these was Apprendi v. New Jersey, which held that any fact (other than a prior criminal conviction) that increases a defendant’s punishment beyond the otherwise applicable statutory maximum had to be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Another, United States v. Booker—a fractured opinion in which Stevens wrote in part for the majority and partially in dissent—the Court invalidated a federal statute that generally required judges to sentence defendants within the ranges set by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Stevens also dissented from the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision that the federal mail and wire fraud statutes required the government to prove that defendants had deprived their victims of tangible property, including money. It was not enough, the majority said, for a victim to have been fraudulently deprived of “honest services.” Justice Stevens disagreed. He wrote that the Court’s decision undermined Congress’s efforts to broadly proscribe fraudulent schemes. Congress ultimately vindicated Stevens’s view by enacting a new honest services statute the year after the Court’s decision.
Finally, I urge you to read this recent piece in the The Atlantic discussing Stevens’s formative encounter with white collar issues and the criminal justice system more generally when his father was convicted with embezzlement when Stevens was a child. The conviction was ultimately overturned.
I’m not really equipped to comment on all the ways that Justice Stevens made our society better. He was a veteran, an able lawyer, and a judge who always kept the humanity of the parties before him centered in his opinions.