Vanderbilt Law Review


Anne D. Gooch

First Page



A few days before Christmas in 1994, in Vineland, New Jersey, Charles Apprendi, Jr. was drunk. At 2:04 a.m., he fired several shots from a .22 caliber gun into the home of an African-American family in his neighborhood. By 3:05 a.m., he had been arrested and had admitted that he was the shooter. Apprendi was interrogated for several hours after these events. At 6:04 a.m., he apparently stated that he committed the crime because the victims were black, but he later retracted this statement. Apprendi was indicted on twenty-three counts in connection with the shooting, and eventually pleaded guilty to three of them: two counts of second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, and one count of third-degree unlawful possession of an antipersonnel bomb.

None of the twenty-three counts included any reference to New Jersey's hate crime statute, which allowed between ten and twenty years to be added onto any sentence for a crime that was racially motivated. Nor did any of the twenty-three counts even allege that Apprendi acted with a "racially biased purpose." The maximum possible sentence for a single second-degree firearm possession conviction was ten years. Apprendi, however, was sentenced to twelve years on a single second-degree count. The judge found it more likely than not that Apprendi had committed the shooting because of racial bias against the victims, and imposed a two-year enhancement under New Jersey's hate crime statute.