Friday, February 17, 2017

Sentencing Court determines "applicable guidelines range"

US v. Tate:  Tate pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute and distribution of crack, and his plea agreement contained a clause wherein the government would seek a sentence at the low end of the applicable guidelines range; it also contained an appellate waiver.  At Tate’s sentencing, the district court included some criminal history points that Tate had disputed in its calculus of Tate’s sentence, resulting in a higher guidelines range than he had previously expected.  The government requested a sentence at the lowest end of the higher guidelines range.  Tate argued on appeal that the government breached the plea agreement because it did not request a sentence in the range for which Tate had argued.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed with Tate and affirmed the conviction and sentence.  In doing so, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that Tate’s claim had to be reviewed for plain error because he failed to raise the issue at his sentencing.  Under plain error review, an appellant must show four things: that an error occurred, the error was plain, the error affected the appellant’s “substantial rights,” and the error must affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.  The Fourth Circuit here held that Tate could not succeed because he could not establish the first prong of plain error review, than an error occurred.  The Fourth Circuit held that the meaning of “applicable guidelines range” is the range found by the district court; therefore, the government’s sentencing recommendation for Tate complied with the plea agreement.

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