Sentencing Case Law Update
Hello, this is James Whalen, the owner of the Whalen Law Office. I’m sending out this video today because there’s been a new case that came out from the United States Supreme Court that will impact sentencing. If you are a federal practitioner practicing in federal court and dealing with sentencing issues, this is on preservation of error in sentencing.
The name of the case is Holguin-Hernandez v. United States. It’s a case that originated out of the Fifth Circuit. The issue was the lawyer advocated for a lower sentence than what the judge gave them; and so then on appeal, they raised the issue that the sentence was unreasonable. The Fifth Circuit then said, “Well, you did not preserve that by making an objection to the trial court that you were displeased with the sentence the court gave.” This case went up to the Supreme Court because different circuits throughout the United States had differences of opinion on how to preserve error.
What the Supreme Court ruled is that if you’re advocating and sentencing for a sentence that’s lower or a variance that’s different than what the sentences imposed, then that will be sufficient for review, and you don’t have to object to the sentence itself. That should be sufficient to preserve appellate review.
However, there was a concurring opinion from Justice Alito that said, “This is not a catchall for all objections.” One of the examples that he indicated is that if the Court didn’t calculate the guidelines correctly, that would require a specific objection to bring it to the Court’s attention.
While this case is helpful and now makes it easier to raise sentencing issues on appeal without having to have the hurdle of worrying about, did I preserve it correctly, this takes away that burden. However, I think the case does say that if there are specific errors, a general objection is not going to handle it. So keep making specific objections to guideline calculations or enhancements and things of that nature because I think those will still need a specific objection.
But this is encouraging because now it gives us practitioners, especially myself who practices in the Fifth Circuit, a little bit less stress about preserving error at sentencing and seems to be a reasonable result. It also should be noted that this was a unanimous opinion by the Supreme Court, which seems to be rare these days.
If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call. One of the things we do here at the Whalen Law Office is appellate work. I’m board certified in criminal appellate law and would be happy to answer any of your questions that you have concerning appeals as well. I hope this information was helpful, and we’ll update you the next time something significant comes out from the US Supreme Court.