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SCOTUS to decide whether defendant must challenge length of his sentence to preserve the issue for appeal

Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, USSC No. 18-7739, cert granted 5/30/19

Question presented:

Whether a formal objection after pronouncement of sentence is necessary to invoke appellate reasonableness review of the length of a defendant’s sentence.

USSC docket; SCOTUSblog page (including links to briefs and commentary)

In the 5th Circuit, counsel must object to the sentence after it is imposed in order challenge its reasonableness on appeal. Otherwise the 5th Circuit conduct sa plain error review.  See United States v. Heard, 709 F.3d 413, 425 (5th Cir. 2013). Other circuits hold that an objection is not necessary post Booker. See e.g. United States v. Castro-Juarez, 425 F.3d 430 (7th Cir. 2005); United States v. Autery, 555 F.3d 864, 869-871 (9th Cir. 2009). The 7th Circuit explained why:

 To insist that defendants object at sentencing to preserve appellate review for reasonableness would create a trap for unwary defendants and saddle busy district courts with the burden of sitting through an objection-probably formulaic-in every criminal case. Since the district court will already have heard argument and allocution from the parties and weighed the relevant § 3553(a) factors before pronouncing sentence, we fail to see how requiring the defendant to then protest the term handed down as unreasonable will further the sentencing process in any meaningful way. Certainly we do not mean to discourage district courts from entertaining argument about the reasonableness of a sentence after its pronouncement, nor do we suggest that our longstanding insistence on proper objections as to other sentencing issues, e.g., the application of a guideline adjustment, should be relaxed. All we conclude here is that our review of a sentence for reasonableness is not affected by whether the defendant had the foresight to label his sentence “unreasonable” before the sentencing hearing adjourned. Castro-Juarez, 425 F.3d at 433-434.

Holguin-Hernandez’s case presents a question of federal law, not state law. However, the issue should ring a bell for state practitioners.  SCOW just granted review of a similar issue in two cases. See our post on State v. Carrie E. Counihan and State v. Donavinn Coffee, where one of the issues for review is whether a defendant forfeits his right to challenge a judge’s consideration of information at sentencing by failing to object to the information at the time of sentencing.

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