Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Harmless Error Analysis for Guideline Miscalculation

US v. Savillon-Matute: Savillon-Matute pleaded guilty to illegal reentry. Prior to sentencing, the probation officer recommended an 8-level enhancement because Savillon-Matute's prior Maryland conviction for second-degree assault was an "aggravated felony." The Government objected, arguing that a 16-level enhancement was applicable because that prior offense was a "crime of violence" because the victim was seven years old and force was involved. Savillon-Matute argued that neither enhancement applied. At sentencing, the district court agreed with Savillon-Matute that his Maryland conviction was not a crime of violence, but took judicial notice that the charging documents made the age of the victim and use of force clear. The 8-level enhancement was applied. However, Savillon-Matute was sentenced to 36 months in prison, twice the top of the advisory Guideline range.

On appeal, Savillon-Matute argued that his sentence was unreasonable because the district court incorrectly calculated the advisory Guideline range by using documents outside the scope of those allowed by Shepard to determine the victim's age and use of force. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentence, refusing to "wad[e] into the morass of how to apply Shepard in the particular circumstances of this case" because any error in calculating the Guidelines was harmless. Adopting the logic of an 11th Circuit case, the court held that "it would make no sense to set aside [a] reasonable sentence and send the case back to the district court since it has already told us that it would impose exactly the same sentence, a sentence we would be compelled to affirm." Looking to the statements of the district court in this case, the court concluded that the same sentence would have been applied regardless of the Guideline calculation.

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