Supreme Court Grants Cert, Vacates Sentencing Opinion

The Supreme Court today granted cert in a 10th Circuit sentencing guideline case. (Order here, pdf). The case is U.S. v. Garcia-Lara, 499 F.3d 1133 (10th Cir. 2007). It was a terrible decision that held district courts have to find something unusual about the defendant or his case in order to vary from the Guidelines. It's a meth case where the trial court departed below the guidelines to impose 140 months and the 10th Circuit reversed. (See below the fold for facts.)

Not only did the Supreme Court today accept cert on the case, it vacated the opinion and remanded the case for further proceedings in light of Gall v. U.S. The Supreme Court case number is 07-9799.

[Hat tip to the Colorado Federal Defender's office for the information.]

From the now vacated 10th Circuit opinion:

Defendant-Appellee Guadalupe Garcia-Lara pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Because Mr. Garcia-Lara had two prior convictions for controlled substance offenses, the "career offender" enhancement applied to his advisory sentence under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G." or "Guidelines"). See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. Believing the career offender enhancement overstated Mr. Garcia-Lara's criminal history, the District Court sentenced him to a below-Guidelines sentence of 140 months' imprisonment. The Government appeals that sentence as substantively unreasonable. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3731, we vacate Mr. Garcia-Lara's sentence and remand for resentencing.

...The U.S. Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") in anticipation of Mr. Garcia-Lara's sentencing. The PSR reported a criminal history category of V and an initial base offense level of 32. Because two of Mr. Garcia-Lara's prior convictions were for controlled substance offenses as defined in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b), the PSR applied the "career offender" provision of the Guidelines, U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(A), raising his criminal history category to VI and his base offense level to 37. After applying a three-level reduction to the offense level for acceptance of responsibility, the PSR concluded Mr. Garcia-Lara had a total offense level of 34 and a criminal history category of VI, resulting in an advisory Guidelines sentence of 262 to 327 months' imprisonment.

Applying 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the District Court concluded that a sentence of 262 months, at the bottom of the advisory Guidelines range, over-represented Mr. Garcia-Lara's criminal history, resulting in a sentence greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of § 3553(a). Accordingly, the court sentenced Mr. Garcia-Lara as if the career offender enhancement did not apply. Noting that the advisory Guidelines sentence for a non-career offender would be 140 to 175 months' imprisonment, the District Court sentenced Mr. Garcia-Lara to 140 months.

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  • Display: Sort:
    They are not reviewing the case (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by fuzzyone on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 07:15:26 PM EST
    They just GVRed it (granted, vacated, remanded) for the 10th to reconsider in light of their decision in Gall, which made it clear that judges are free to depart from the guidelines and that such departures are subject to an abuse of discretion standard, not a reasonableness standard.  Since the 10th appears to have applied the reasonableness test the court remanded for them to apply the right test.  They have GVRed quite a few cases since Gall for this very reason.  

    I was trying to (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 08:21:34 PM EST
    avoid using the words "granted cert" since it's so legalistic so I changed it to "agreed to review", what it usually means. I've changed it back. Thanks for the correction.

    But More to the Point (none / 0) (#4)
    by The Maven on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 08:55:01 PM EST
    it would appear that SCOTUS didn't really "take" the case (at least not in the way most people would ascribe to that term), as described in the title here, since it was summarily disposed of via the remand to the Tenth Circuit. There will thus be no briefing before the Supreme Court, no oral argument, nor any decision.

    (Sorry for sounding like such a nitpicker here . . .)


    Well, GVR is a confusing concept to a layperson (none / 0) (#5)
    by fuzzyone on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 10:09:57 PM EST
    since its not much talked about, but it is a frequent disposition after a big case.  

    The court is just saying that it appears that this case may be controlled by this case we decided after the lower court decision, so rather than deal with it now we want the lower court to see if our intervening decision makes a difference in how they would decide the case.  The 10th could, theoretically, conclude that the sentence is an abuse of discretion and have the same result, though abuse of discretion is a tough standard so it seems  unlikely.


    I didn't even think to look at the title (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 11:23:31 PM EST
    of the post. Thanks, I've changed that too.

    Excellent (none / 0) (#1)
    by litigatormom on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 07:09:29 PM EST
    I don't see how that opinion is consistent with Booker.

    Interesting... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Alec82 on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 10:30:33 PM EST
    ...I noticed Judge McConnell (who was not on this panel) has been critical of the circuit court approaches for a while now.  

     Litigatormom: I think you mean Gall? The circuit courts were reversing below-guidelines sentences left and right after Booker.  


    The issue raised by the 10 CCA... (none / 0) (#8)
    by jccamp on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 11:33:42 PM EST
    seems to be legitimate, even if their basis for conclusion was flawed. The DC judge decided to depart downward because he disagreed with the PSR finding the def. was a career criminal.
    Rather than paste in a long quote, go HERE for the 10th's decision. Go down about 1/3 of the doc, and read the paragraph describing the def.'s history.

    The dc judge can depart from statutory guidelines, but must present a rationale for doing so. In this instance, there does not seem to be much room to wiggle about "career criminal."

    Maybe the statutes need to be re-written, but until then, it does seem like this judge abused his discretion.