US v. Hargrove: Hargrove was (in the Government's words) a "'legend' in the dog fighting community," with three prior state convictions. After he sold a dog to an undercover agent, his property was searched, uncovering numerous implements of dog fighting and training, as well as 34 dogs that later had to be euthanized. He was charged with one count of selling an animal for purposes of having it participate in an animal fighting venture and pleaded guilty. His Guideline range was calculated in the PSR to be 10-16 months, but Hargrove objected and argued it should be 0-6 months. The Government bypassed the Guideline dispute and argued for an upward variance/departure based on "extraordinary cruelty to animals, extreme conduct," and the inadequacy of his criminal history calculation. At sentencing, the district court preformed its own Guideline calculation, producing a range of 41 to 51 months, but imposed a statutory maximum sentence of 60 months. It did so, explaining that even if Hargrove's 0-6 month range had been the correct calculation it would have imposed the same sentence.
Hargrove appealed, arguing that his sentence was unreasonable. The Fourth Circuit disagreed. The court accepted the Government's concession that the district court's guideline calculations were erroneous, but found the error was harmless. The court explained that in appropriate cases is used the "assumed error harmlessness inquiry" as a way to involve the "empty formality" of remanding when the record shows such a remand would result in the imposition of the same sentence. Nothing that the district court explicitly said it would impose the same sentence regardless of the Guideline calculations, the court looked to whether the 60-month sentence was substantively reasonable, which it was.