Monday, April 24, 2006

Court Has Jurisdiction to Review Sentence Within Guideline Range for Reasonableness

US v. Montes-Pineda: Montes-Pineda pleaded guilty to unlawfully returning to the United States after having been deported following an aggravated felony. His advisory Guideline range (after a 16-level bump for the prior aggravated felony) was 46 to 57 months. Montes-Pineda argued for a sentence of 24 months. The district court imposed a sentence of 46 months and Montes-Pineda appealed, arguing that the sentence was unreasonable.

The Government moved to have the appeal dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that because the sentence fell within a properly calculated Guideline range (all facts were agreed upon by the parties) it was not "imposed in violation of law" under 18 USC 3742(a)(1). The Fourth Circuit roundly rejected that argument (as have the other Circuits that have dealt with it) as contrary to Booker. The court also rejected the Government's premise that "all sentences within a properly calculated Guidelines range are necessarily lawful." Finally, the Court rejected the Government's leger de main argument that unreasonable sentences weren't unlawful per se, only if the sentence was achieved due to some other error such as an incorrect Guideline calculation.

As to the substance of Montes-Pineda's appeal, the court affirmed the 46-month sentence. The court held that the sentence was reasonable, given Montes-Pineda's status as a "chronic offender," which was not sufficiently outweighed by any mitigating factors (Montes-Pineda's prior conviction was 14 years old and he returned to the US to seek medical treatment). However, the court did rather cryptically state that "we need not resolve here whether [those mitigating factors] would suffice to demonstrate the reasonableness of a below-Guidelines sentence in another case."

The court also rejected Montes-Pineda's argument that the sentence was unreasonable because of the disparity between it and a lesser sentence for the same offense handed out in a "fast-track" district. The court generally deferred to discretionary fast-track scheme set up by Congress, but did indicate that "[t]his is not to say that a district court may never consider the disparities" between the two kinds of sentences.

Finally, the court held that the district court sufficiently explained its reasons for imposing the 46-month sentence.

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