Supreme Court rules on sentencing guidelines
Supreme Court rules on sentencing guidelines

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] voted 8-0 to reverse and remand [opinion, PDF] the case of Molina-Martinez v. US [SCOTUSblog docket] on the issue of whether courts reviewing sentencing guideline errors may apply a categorical “additional evidence” rule where a district court applies an incorrect range but sentences the defendant within the correct range. The court rejected the decision [opinion, PDF] of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] that held the petitioner’s substantial rights were not violated when he was originally sentenced under an incorrect range based on his criminal history but the sentence ultimately fell within the correct guidelines. The Fifth Circuit ruled that Molina-Martinez could not meet the standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(b) [text] that his substantial rights were violated. The Fifth Circuit held that Molina-Martinez failed to identify “additional evidence” to prove that the use of the incorrect sentencing guidelines range would have altered his sentence, and an incorrect sentencing guidelines range does not by itself establish additional evidence. The case arose when petitioner Saul Molina-Martinez pleaded guilty to being unlawfully present in the US after being deported following an aggravated felony conviction. The guidelines range in his pre-sentence report was 77-96 months. The district court sentenced him to 77 months in prison. On appeal, Molina-Martinez argued that his probation officer calculated his criminal history points incorrectly and placed him in the wrong sentencing guideline range. Consequently, Molina-Martinez argued that his sentencing guidelines range should have been 70-87 months. In Wednesday’s opinion, the court stated that going forward a defendant can rely on the application of an incorrect guidelines range to show an effect on his substantial rights on appeal, but the government will not have to prove that every guidelines error was harmless.

The Court heard oral argument [JURIST report; transcript, PDF] in Molina-Martinez v. US in January.