Monday, January 25, 2010

Admission of Guilt Required for Criminal History Scoring

US v. Martinez-Melgar: Martinez-Melgar pleaded guilty to various drug and firearms charges. At sentencing, he challenged the use of a prior North Carolina disposition in the calculation of his criminal history score. Specifically, Martinez-Melgar argued that his participation in a "District Court Step Drug Program" in Mecklenburg County, NC, should not count in his criminal history because he did not make an admission of guilt in connection with the program. Likewise, Martinez-Melgar argued that the term of probation he was on as a part of the Step program could not be used to increase his criminal history score under USSG 4A1.1(d). The district court disagreed, partly based on testimony at the sentencing hearing from the architect of the Step program who explained that participation in that program required a "statement of responsibility" that was the equivalent of an admission of guilt, even though the Government could not provide evidence of such a statement in Martinez-Melgar's case.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit vacated Martinez-Melgar's sentence and remanded for further proceedings. The court noted that, for participation in a program like this to contribute to a criminal history score, it must result from a finding or admission of guilt in either open court or some other court proceeding. While the district court did make findings to conclude that Martinez-Melgar had made such an admission, a review of the record showed those findings to be clearly erroneous. Specifically, while the district court properly relied on computer records to conclude that Martinez-Melgar was charged with a qualifying offense and he successfully completed the Step program, there was insufficient evidence that Martinez-Melgar made an admission of guilt in open court as a part of those proceedings.

Congrats to the defender office in the WDNC on the win!

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