Federal Sentencing Guidelines (Part 2)

by | Dec 21, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Kennedy continued: In making its decision, the district court must consider the Sentencing Guidelines. And it may not accept the agreement unless the sentence is within the applicable Guidelines range, or it is outside that range for justifiable reasons specifically set out. After petitioner Erik Hughes was indicted on drug and gun charges, he and the Government negotiated a Type-C plea agreement, which stipulated that Hughes would receive a sentence of 180 months but did not refer to a particular Guidelines range. Hughes pleaded guilty. At his sentencing hearing, the District Court accepted the agreement and sentenced him to 180 months. In so doing, it calculated Hughes’ Guidelines range as 188 to 235 months and determined that the sentence was in accordance with the Guidelines and other factors the court was required to consider. Less than two months later, the Sentencing Commission adopted, and made retroactive, an amendment that had the effect of reducing Hughes’ sentencing range to 151 to 188 months. The District Court denied Hughes’ motion for a reduced sentence under §3582(c)(2), and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, under the Freeman concurrence, Hughes was ineligible for a reduced sentence because his plea agreement did not expressly rely on a Guidelines range.

A sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is “based on” the defendant’s Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement. A principal purpose of the Sentencing Guidelines is to promote sentencing uniformity. But in the aftermath of Freeman, a defendant’s eligibility for a reduced sentence under §3582(c)(2) turns on the Circuit in which the case arises. Even within Circuits that follow the Freeman concurrence, unwarranted disparities have resulted depending on whether a defendant’s Type-C agreement has a specific enough reference to a Guidelines range. This Court’s precedents since Freeman have confirmed that the Guidelines remain the foundation of federal sentencing decisions. See, e.g., Peugh v. United States, 569 U. S. 530; Molina-Martinez v. United States, 578 U. S. ___.

Federal courts are required to consider the recommended sentencing ranges in every case. Thus, the ranges will always be part of the sentencing framework and all sentences, including those arrived at via negotiated agreements. Therefore, all negotiated agreements will be eligible for reductions based on amended sentencing ranges under the majority’s analysis.