Thursday, May 06, 2010

Shepard No Limit When Calculating Guidelines

US v. Dean: Dean pleaded guilty to one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The probation officer determined that Dean was a career offender based on two prior North Carolina convictions for drug offenses. Dean objected, arguing that the sentences for the two convictions were imposed on the same day and there was no evidence that the offenses were separated by an intervening arrest. Therefore, they should be treated as one prior conviction and he would not qualify as a career offender. The district court disagreed, based on bond documents and documents from the court clerk's office showing an intervening arrest. Dean was sentenced to 151 months in prison.

On appeal, Dean challenged his classification as a career offender, particularly arguing that in making its decision the district court looked beyond the material approved by Shepard v. United States to determine the character of prior convictions. Assuming that the documents at issue fell outside the bounds of Shepard, the court nevertheless rejected Dean's argument.

The court held that Shepard had no application "in contexts where there is no Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury" and that Dean's argument "runs headlong into this principle." Furthermore, because the career offender Guideline is "no less advisory than any other portion," it did not increase Dean's statutory maximum punishment and therefore did not implicate the Sixth Amendment. Therefore, "because the Sixth Amendment does not apply to the process of calculating an advisory sentence under the Guidelines, Shepard's Sixth Amendment-based evidentiary restrictions do not apply to that process, either." In addition, under Rita and Gall it is essential for a district court to "calculate a defendant's advisory range using the fact-finding tools normally available to it." Thus, it affirmed Dean's sentence based on the findings of the district court.

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