US v. Mendoza-Mendoza: Mendoza-Mendoza was convicted of illegal reentry (he had previously been deported to his native land of Mexico). At sentencing, he argued for a sentence below the advisory Guideline range. The district court concluded that it was "obligated" to impose a sentence within the Guideline range unless "a reason for a departure from those Guidelines, or a variance based on 18 USC 3553" was present. It then sentenced Mendoza-Mendoza to 46 months in prison, the Guideline minimum. In doing so, the district court rejected the Government's argument that Mendoza-Mendoza was a danger to others, but concluded that "I cannot see any reason for a variance."
Mendoza-Mendoza appealed, arguing that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable. The Fourth Circuit agreed and vacated his sentence, remanding the case for further proceedings. At issue was whether the district court utilized what the court called the "Rita presumption" - i.e., that the Guideline range was presumptively reasonable. In reviewing the record, the court warned against "[a]ppellate flyspecking for Rita presumptions." Nonetheless, in this case Mendoza-Mendoza's reading of the district court's reasoning - that it was bound by the Guidelines - was at least as plausible as the contrary reading. Thus, vacation was required. Judge Davis concurred in the result, but wrote (and quoted at length from the transcript) to explain why it was not clear to him that procedural error had occurred.
Congrats to the FPD office in the EDNC on the win!