Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), we held that "[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Id., at 490. In federal prosecutions, such facts must also be charged in the indictment. Id. , at 476 (quoting Jones v. United States, 526 U.S. 227, 243, n. 6 (1999)). In this case, we address whether the omission from a federal indictment of a fact that enhances the statutory maximum sentence justifies a court of appeals' vacating the enhanced sentence, even though the defendant did not object in the trial court.
Respondent Stanley Hall, Jr., led a "vast drug organization" in Baltimore. 261 F.3d 397, 401 (CA 4 2001). The six other respondents helped run the operation. In October 1997, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging respondents with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U. S. C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). A superseding indictment returned in March 1998, which extended the time period of the conspiracy and added five more defendants, charged a conspiracy to
In accord with the superseding indictment, the District Court instructed the jury that "as long as you find that a defendant conspired to distribute or posses[s] with intent to distribute these controlled substances, the amounts involved are not important." App. to Pet. for Cert. 6a (emphasis deleted). The jury found respondents guilty.
Congress established "a term of imprisonment of not more than 20 years" for drug offenses involving a detectable quantity of cocaine or cocaine base. § 841(b)(1)(C). But the District Court did not sentence respondents under this provision. Consistent with the practice in federal courts at the time, at sentencing the District Court made a finding of drug quantity that implicated the enhanced penalties of § 841(b)(1)(A), which prescribes "a term of imprisonment which may not be . . . more than life" for drug offenses involving at least 50 grams of cocaine base. The District Court found, based on the trial testimony, respondent Hall responsible for at least 500 grams of cocaine base, and the other respondents responsible for at least 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base. The court sentenced respondents Hall and Powell to 30 years' imprisonment and the other respondents to life imprisonment. Respondents did not object in the District Court to the fact that these sentences were based on an amount of drug quantity not alleged in the indictment.
While respondents' appeal was pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, we decided Apprendi v. New Jersey, supra. Respondents then argued in the Court of Appeals that their sentences were invalid under Apprendi, because the issue of drug quantity was neither alleged in the indictment nor submitted to the petit
We first address the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the omission from the indictment was a "jurisdictional" defect and thus required vacating respondents' sentences. Ex parte Bain, 121 U.S. 1 (1887), is the progenitor of this view. In Bain, the indictment charged that Bain, the cashier and director of a bank, made false statements "with intent to deceive the Comptroller of the Currency and the agent appointed to examine the affairs" of the bank. Id., at 4. Before trial, the court struck the words "the Comptroller of the Currency and," on the ground that they were superfluous. The jury found Bain guilty. Id., at 4-5. Bain challenged the amendment to the indictment in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court concluded that the amendment was improper and that therefore "the jurisdiction of the offence [was] gone, and the court [had] no right to proceed any further in the progress of the case for want of an indictment." Id., at 13.
Bain, however, is a product of an era in which this Court's authority to review criminal convictions was greatly circumscribed. At the time it was decided, a defendant could not obtain direct review of his criminal conviction in the Supreme
Bain `s elastic concept of jurisdiction is not what the term "jurisdiction" means today, i. e., "the courts' statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998). This latter concept of subject-matter jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived. Consequently, defects in subject-matter jurisdiction require correction regardless of whether the error was raised in district court. See, e. g., Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149 (1908). In contrast, the grand jury right can be waived. See Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 7(b); Smith v. United States, 360 U.S. 1, 6 (1959).
Post-Bain cases confirm that defects in an indictment do not deprive a court of its power to adjudicate a case. In Lamar v. United States, 240 U.S. 60 (1916), the Court rejected the claim that "the court had no jurisdiction because the indictment does not charge a crime against the United States." Id., at 64. Justice Holmes explained that a district
Thus, this Court some time ago departed from Bain `s view that indictment defects are "jurisdictional." Bain has been cited in later cases such as Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212 (1960), and Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749 (1962), for the proposition that "an indictment may not be amended except by resubmission to the grand jury, unless the change is merely a matter of form," id., at 770 (citing Bain, supra ). But in each of these cases proper objection had been made in the District Court to the sufficiency of the indictment. We need not retreat from this settled proposition of law decided in Bain to say that the analysis of that issue in terms of "jurisdiction" was mistaken in the light of later cases such as Lamar and Williams. Insofar as it held that a defective indictment deprives a court of jurisdiction, Bain is overruled.
Freed from the view that indictment omissions deprive a court of jurisdiction, we proceed to apply the plain-error test of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) to respondents' forfeited claim. See United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 731 (1993). "Under that test, before an appellate court can correct an error not raised at trial, there must be (1) `error,' (2) that is `plain,' and (3) that `affect[s] substantial rights.' " Johnson v. United States, 520 U.S. 461, 466-467 (1997) (quoting Olano, supra, at 732). "If all three conditions are met, an appellate court may then exercise its discretion to notice a forfeited error, but only if (4) the error "seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings."
The Government concedes that the indictment's failure to allege a fact, drug quantity, that increased the statutory maximum sentence rendered respondents' enhanced sentences erroneous under the reasoning of Apprendi and Jones. The Government also concedes that such error was plain. See Johnson, supra, at 468 ("[W]here the law at the time of trial was settled and clearly contrary to the law at the time of appeal[,] it is enough that an error be `plain' at the time of appellate consideration").
The third inquiry is whether the plain error "affect[ed] substantial rights." This usually means that the error "must have affected the outcome of the district court proceedings." Olano, supra, at 734. Respondents argue that an indictment error falls within the "limited class" of "structural errors," Johnson, supra, at 468-469, that "can be corrected regardless of their effect on the outcome," Olano, supra, at 735. Respondents cite Silber v. United States, 370 U.S. 717 (1962) (per curiam), and Stirone v. United States, supra, in support of this position.
As in Johnson (see id., at 469), we need not resolve whether respondents satisfy this element of the plain-error inquiry, because even assuming respondents' substantial rights were affected, the error did not seriously affect the
The same analysis applies in this case to the omission of drug quantity from the indictment. The evidence that the conspiracy involved at least 50 grams of cocaine base was "overwhelming" and "essentially uncontroverted."
In providing for graduated penalties in 21 U. S. C. § 841(b), Congress intended that defendants, like respondents, involved in large-scale drug operations receive more severe punishment than those committing drug offenses involving lesser quantities. Indeed, the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system depends on meting out to those inflicting the greatest harm on society the most severe punishments. The real threat then to the "fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings" would be if respondents, despite the overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence that they were involved in a vast drug conspiracy, were to receive a sentence prescribed for those committing less substantial drug offenses because of an error that was never objected to at trial. Cf. Johnson, supra, at 470 (quoting R. Traynor, The Riddle of Harmless Error 50 (1970)).
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.