Molina-Martinez v. United States, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)




NOTE:?Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.?S. 321 .



certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 14?8913.?Argued January 12, 2016?Decided April 20, 2016

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jdJungle’s One-Sentence Takeaway:?After a defendant makes a showing on appeal that the district court applied an?incorrect U.S. Sentencing Guideline range, he/she does not have to make the additional showing that his/her substantial rights were affected by the application of the incorrect range and the court of appeal is to?presume that defendant’s substantial rights were so affected.



The Federal Sentencing Guidelines first enter the sentencing process when the United States Probation Office prepares a presentence report containing, as relevant here, an advisory Guidelines range based on the seriousness of a defendant?s offense and the extent of his criminal history. A district court may depart from the Guidelines, but it ?must consult [them] and take them into account when sentencing.?United States v. Booker, 543 U.?S. 220 . Given the Guidelines? complexity, a District Court?s use of an incorrect Guidelines range may go unnoticed. That error can be remedied on appeal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), provided that (1) there is an error that was not intentionally relinquished or abandoned, United States v. Olano, 507 U.?S. 725 ?733; (2) the error is plain, i.e., clear or obvious, id., at 734; and (3) the error affected the defendant?s substantial rights, ibid., which in the ordinary case means he or she must ?show a reasonable probability that, but for the error,? the outcome of the proceeding would have been different, United States v.Dominguez Benitez, 542 U.?S. 74 . Once these three conditions have been met, the court of appeals should exercise its discretion to correct the forfeited error if the error ???seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.??? Olano, 507 U.?S., at 736 (brackets omitted).

Petitioner Molina-Martinez pleaded guilty to being unlawfully present in the United States after having been deported following an aggravated felony conviction. The Guidelines range in his presentence report was 77 to 96 months. He requested, and the Probation Office recommended, a 77-month sentence, while the Government requested 96 months. The District Court, with little explanation, sentenced him to the lowest end of what it believed to be the applicable Guidelines range?77 months. On appeal, Molina-Martinez argued for the first time that the Probation Office and the District Court miscalculated his Guidelines range, which should have been 70 to 87 months, and noted that his 77-month sentence would have been in the middle of the correct range, not at the bottom. The Fifth Circuit agreed that the District Court used an incorrect Guidelines range but found that Molina-Martinez could not satisfy Rule 52(b)?s requirement that the error affect his substantial rights. It reasoned that a defendant whose sentence falls within what would have been the correct Guidelines range must, on appeal, identify ?additional evidence? showing that use of the incorrect Guidelines range in fact affected his sentence.

Held:?Courts reviewing Guidelines errors cannot apply a categorical ?additional evidence? rule in cases, like this one, where a district court applies an incorrect range but sentences the defendant within the correct range. Pp.?8?16.

(a)?The Guidelines establish the essential framework for sentencing proceedings. Sentencing courts ???must begin their analysis with the Guidelines and remain cognizant of them throughout the sentencing process.??? Peugh v. United States, 569 U.?S. ___, ___. Sentencing Commission statistics confirm that the Guidelines inform and instruct the district court?s determination of an appropriate sentence. In the usual case, the systemic function of the selected Guidelines range will affect a defendant?s sentence. As a result, a defendant who shows that the district court mistakenly deemed applicable an incorrect, higher range will, in the ordinary case, have demonstrated a reasonable probability of a different outcome. That showing will suffice for relief if Rule 52(b)?s other requirements are met. Pp.?9?12.

(b)?The unworkable nature of the Fifth Circuit?s ?additional evidence? rule is evident here, where the record shows that the District Court gave little explanation for the sentence it selected, rejected the Government?s request for a sentence at the top of the erroneous Guidelines range, and chose the sentence requested by the defendant and recommended by the Probation Office?a sentence at the bottom of the erroneous Guidelines range. This demonstrates that the Guidelines served as the starting point for the sentencing and were the focal point for the proceedings that followed. Given the sentence the District Court chose, and because the court said nothing to suggest that it would have imposed the same sentence regardless of the Guidelines range, there is at least a reasonable probability that the court would have imposed a different sentence had it known that 70 months was the lowest sentence the Commission deemed appropriate. Pp.?12?13.

(c)? Rejection of the Fifth Circuit?s rule means only that a defendant can rely on the application of an incorrect Guidelines range to show an effect on his substantial rights, not that the Government will have to prove that every Guidelines error was harmless. And the Government?s concern over the judicial resources needed for the resentencing proceedings that might result from today?s holding is unfounded because the holding is consistent with the approach taken by most Courts of Appeals and because remanding for resentencing is less costly than remanding for retrial. Pp.?13?15.

588 Fed. Appx. 333, reversed and remanded.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.?J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined.