Oops: When Does a Plain Error in Calculating a Defendant's Sentencing Guidelines Range Warrant Resentencing? [August 8, 2018]   [open pdf - 516KB]

"In the federal criminal justice system, not all errors justify relief. Notably, under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), federal courts may, but are not required to, correct an error if a defendant failed to notify the district court about the error. (These kinds of forfeited errors, like failing to object when an error is made, are generally called 'plain errors.') However, the Supreme Court has opined that an appellate court should exercise its discretion to correct an unpreserved error 'if the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.' For example, under that standard a new trial unlikely would be warranted if defense counsel neglected to object to a prosecutor's improper leading question. But what about if defense counsel doesn't point out an error in the district court's calculation of the defendant's U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (Guidelines) range? Rosales-Mireles v. United States, argued during the Supreme Court's October 2017 term, addressed that question. Specifically, the case evaluated the scope of an appellate court's discretion to order resentencing when the district court makes a plain error in calculating a defendant's Guidelines range. In a 7-2 ruling authored by Justice Sotomayor, the Court held that 'in the ordinary case,' resentencing will be warranted."

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