Monday, November 09, 2009

Consideration of Uncharged Conduct at Sentecing OK

US v. Grubbs: Grubbs pleaded guilty to six counts of transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity and six counts of travelling interstate to engage in sexual activity with a minor. Those charges involved two victims. In the PSR, the probation officer set forth allegations from nine other victims of similar conduct by Grubbs in the past.

At sentencing, the district court "expressed its concern" that the Guideline range of 151-188 months was not sufficient to fully account for Grubbs's conduct, as it was based only on the counts in the indictment and did not take into account the additional allegations in the PSR. Over Grubbs's objection, the district court concluded that the uncharged conduct was reliable enough to be used at sentencing and departed upwards both as to offense level and criminal history category, raising the Guideline range to 210-262 months. Grubbs received a 240-month sentence.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Grubbs's sentence. Grubbs's primary arguments on appeal related to the use of uncharged conduct to enhance his sentence.

First, he argued that the sentence violated his Sixth Amendment rights under Booker because the 240-month sentence is unreasonable if based only on the offenses of conviction. In other words, only by using uncharged conduct could the sentence be reasonable (this is essentially the argument from Scalia's dissent in Rita). The court rejected that argument as "nullified by clear Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent" allowing the use of uncharged and acquitted conduct at sentencing. Booker, the court held, did not change that precedent.

Second, Grubbs argued that the sentence violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights because it was based on conduct not proven by clear and convincing evidence. Applying plain error (Grubbs did not specifically object to the use of a preponderance standard), the court concluded there was no error, "plain or otherwise," In doing so, the court concluded that whatever viability the potential exception to the general preponderance standard at sentencing suggested in McMillan v. Pennsylvania - where the enhancement is the "tail that wags the dog of the substantive offense" - has been "nullified" in light of Booker. Adopting a Sixth Circuit formulation, the court explains that challenges to large sentencing enhancements are properly dealt with in terms of Booker reasonableness review, not due process.

The court also rejected Grubbs's argument that the Guidelines had been improperly calculated.

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