October 19, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Predicate Offense Must Be Felony at Time of Current Offense for Habitual Offender Designation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Kadell on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Habitual Criminal—Sufficiency of Evidence—Prior Felony Conviction—Collateral Attack—Excusable Neglect—Extended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Kadell of six counts of robbery and one count of aggravated motor vehicle theft, each of which is a class 4 felony. The prosecution filed habitual criminal counts, and Kadell moved to suppress his prior felony convictions as a way to collaterally attack those convictions. The motion was untimely, but Kadell argued that his failure to timely file was the result of excusable neglect. The trial court did not rule on the excusable neglect claim. Before sentencing, the trial court adjudicated Kadell a habitual criminal based on three prior felony convictions, including, as relevant here, one in 1997 for attempted cultivation of marijuana. In accordance with the habitual criminal statute, the trial court imposed a 24-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections, four times the presumptive maximum sentence for a class 4 felony.

On appeal, Kadell contended that the trial court erred in imposing a sentence under the habitual criminal statute because there was insufficient evidence that he was convicted of three qualifying felonies before his current convictions. He argued that his 1997 conviction for attempted cultivation of marijuana did not count as a felony under the habitual criminal statute because when he committed his offenses in this case, attempted cultivation of marijuana was no longer a felony in Colorado unless the defendant possessed more than six plants, and the trial court had no evidence of how many plants were involved in the 1997 conviction. As a matter of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that for a prior drug felony conviction to qualify as a predicate offense under the habitual criminal statute, the prosecution must prove that the prior offense of conviction remained a felony under Colorado law at the time the defendant committed the new offense, even when the prior conviction was entered in Colorado. The prosecution did not present sufficient evidence of this fact at Kadell’s sentencing hearing.

Kadell next argued that the trial court erred by finding that his failure to timely file a collateral attack on his prior convictions was not the result of excusable neglect. The issue of excusable neglect is a question of fact to be resolved first by the trial court. The record does not reflect that the trial court ruled on Kadell’s excusable neglect claim.

Kadell further sought an extended proportionality review of his sentence. This argument is moot at this juncture.

The sentence was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Erred in Calculating Defendant’s Presentence Confinement Credit

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jim on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Sentencing—Presentence Confinement Credit—Residential Community Corrections Placement.

Defendant was sentenced to 18 months in community corrections. He escaped two months after reporting to community corrections. Following his arrest, the district court resentenced him to 18 months in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC), and he was given 67 days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC) for the time he was confined in the county jail before his initial sentencing and 23 days of PSCC for the time he spent in jail between his arrest and resentencing. The court denied defendant’s request for PSCC related to the time he spent in community corrections because he had escaped.

On appeal, defendant contended and the People conceded that the court erred by not awarding him PSCC for the time he spent in the residential community corrections program. Time spent by a defendant in jail, in a DOC facility, or as a resident in a community corrections facility constitutes confinement under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-405, because those facilities limit an individual’s liberty. Thus, when a defendant is resentenced to DOC custody after revocation of a direct sentence to community corrections, he is entitled to credit for time served in a residential community corrections placement. Here, defendant is entitled to 62 days of PSCC for the 62 days he spent in a residential community correction placement. Further, his escape from community corrections did not negate his right to PSCC because C.R.S. §18-1.3-301(1)(k) does not apply to PSCC awards.

The order was reversed and the was case remanded for the district court to correct the mittimus to reflect that defendant is entitled to a total of 152 days of PSCC.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Not Required to Impose Consecutive Sentences for Attempted Murder Counts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Espinoza on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Arson—Attempted Murder—Custody—Motion to Suppress—Consecutive Sentences—Identical Evidence—Crime of Violence—Concurrent Sentences—Discretion.

Espinoza set fire to an apartment complex. As part of the investigation, police transported Espinoza to the police station, where he waited for several hours before being interviewed. Police ended the interview when Espinoza invoked his right to counsel. Espinoza filed a motion to suppress his statements from the videotaped interview with police, alleging that he was in custody and police failed to give him Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion. A jury found Espinoza guilty of 10 counts of attempted murder, 23 counts of first degree arson, 10 crime of violence counts, and multiple misdemeanors.

On appeal, Espinoza contended that the trial court failed to consider several factors in finding that he was not in custody at the police station, including the several-hour wait in the interview room, the presence of two armed detectives during the interview, and the confrontational question near the end of the interview. The record showed that Espinoza agreed to speak with the detectives, consented to a pat-down search, and rode unrestrained to the police station. The detectives told Espinoza that he was not under arrest and was free to leave, Espinoza was not physically restrained, and the tone of the interview was conversational. The trial court’s detailed factual findings, supported by the record, show that Espinoza was not in custody when interviewed by the detectives.

Espinoza next contended that the trial court misapprehended the applicable law when it ruled that it was required to impose consecutive sentences for his attempted first degree murder convictions. Despite naming different victims, Espinoza’s 10 attempted murder convictions were supported by identical evidence because the same evidence (the single act of fire-setting) formed the basis of each conviction. The court of appeals held that separately named victims do not create separate crimes of violence under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-406(1)(a) when identical evidence supports each conviction, and in such circumstances, a court has discretion to impose concurrent sentences under C.R.S. § 18-1-408(3). Here, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences under the mistaken belief that it had no discretion to impose concurrent sentences.

The judgments of conviction were affirmed. The sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded for resentencing.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statute of Limitations Tolled While Defendant Incarcerated in Minnesota

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butler on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Statute of Limitations—Tolling—Out-of-State.

In 1995, Butler was convicted in Colorado and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for sexually assaulting a child. In 1999, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) placed Butler in a Minnesota prison, where he served the remainder of his Colorado sentence until he was released in 2006. A month after his release, Butler attempted to contact L.W., prompting L.W. to report abuse he had allegedly suffered as a child between January 1992 and May 1995. Charges were then brought against Butler in the present case based on L.W.’s allegations of sexual assault, and he was convicted. Butler filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion asserting that the charges were barred by the applicable 10-year statute of limitations. The postconviction court denied Butler’s motion based on tolling of Colorado’s limitations period while Butler was incarcerated and thus “absent from the state of Colorado.” Butler did not raise the statute of limitations argument on direct appeal.

The people initially contended that Butler was barred from pursuing his statute of limitations claim in a postconviction proceeding under the abuse of process rule. However, under an exception to the abuse of process rule, any claim that the sentencing court lacked subject matter jurisdiction may be pursued in a postconviction proceeding. Consequently, Butler’s claim was not barred.

On appeal, Butler contended that the postconviction court erred in ruling that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction for purposes of the statute of limitations’ tolling provision because he was absent from Colorado while he was incarcerated in Minnesota for his prior Colorado convictions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that a defendant is “absent” from Colorado for statute of limitations purposes when he has been transferred by the DOC to an out-of-state facility to serve out the remainder of a Colorado sentence. Consequently, the applicable 10-year limitations period was tolled while Butler was in Minnesota. Additionally, under the circumstances here, the prosecution’s failure to plead Butler’s absence from the state did not deprive the court of jurisdiction to proceed.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Criminal Mischief is Not Lesser Included Offense of First Degree Arson

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Welborne on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

First Degree Arson—Criminal Mischief—Lesser Included Offense—Res Gestae Evidence—Impeachment—CRE 608(b)—Witness Disclosure.

Welborne and his mother set fire to the house in which they lived and filed false insurance claims based on the fire. Welborne was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for arson, six years for criminal mischief, six years for attempted theft, and eight years for theft—all to be served concurrently.

On appeal, Welborne contended that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his earlier insurance claims to the same company. The prior false insurance claims involved the same company, related to a material fact, and were logically relevant to the charges. Evidence of Welborne’s false but fruitful insurance claims was highly probative of whether he acted to deceive the same insurance company with the intent to permanently deprive it of money. The trial court instructed the jury on the limited purposes of the evidence. The evidence was properly admitted under CRE 404(b) and as res gestae evidence.

Welborne further contended that the trial court committed reversible error by permitting the prosecutor to impeach him with his California theft conviction. The trial court acted within its discretion in admitting evidence of Welborne’s prior theft offense under Rule 608(b) as probative of truthfulness or dishonesty. Although the prosecutor presented evidence of the conviction rather than the underlying facts, any error was harmless.

Welborne also argued that the trial court erred by barring him from calling a witness to impeach the testimony of his former girlfriend. Disclosure of this witness was not timely, and Welborne’s offer of proof did not show that the testimony was admissible or that the witness would impeach the girlfriend’s testimony that Welborne had started the fire.

Finally, Welborne contended that criminal mischief is an included offense of first degree arson and, therefore, those convictions must merge. Because criminal mischief requires proof that the acts were committed in a single criminal episode, while first degree arson does not, criminal mischief is not an included offense of first degree arson.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Not Entitled to Bond in Probation Revocation Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Johnson on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Setting Bond—Persons Charged with Felonies Awaiting Trial—Persons Who Plead Guilty to Felonies and Are Awaiting Trial.

While Johnson was serving probation in a criminal impersonation case and deferred judgment in a menacing case, he was charged with, among other things, felony murder and robbery. Johnson was arrested, jailed, and held without bond in the latter case pending his combined preliminary hearing and bond hearing. After Johnson’s arrest in the murder case, the prosecution filed motions to revoke his deferred judgment in the menacing case and his probation in the criminal impersonation case based on the offenses charged in the murder case. The revocation court issued an arrest warrant in the menacing and criminal impersonation cases because of allegations that he had not complied with the terms of his probation. The trial court set bond in the murder case. Later the revocation court held a hearing to determine whether it would grant Johnson’s request for bond in the menacing and criminal impersonation cases. The revocation court denied these requests, drawing a distinction between these cases and the pending murder case based on the fact that the murder case was preconviction and the other cases were postconviction.

On appeal, Johnson asserted that the revocation court was “constitutionally required” to set bond in the menacing case and the criminal impersonation case and abused its discretion when it refused to set bond, with the result that Johnson is being unconstitutionally held without bond. He asserted that the motions to revoke in the menacing case and the criminal impersonation case are “new charges” for which he has a right to bond because he has not yet been “convicted” of them. The court of appeals considered whether the same set of rules governs a court’s decision to set bond in two categories of cases: cases in which bond is set for persons who have been charged with felonies and are awaiting trial, and cases in which defendants have pleaded guilty to felonies, courts have sentenced them to probation or placed them on deferred judgments, and the prosecution then files motions to revoke the probation or deferred judgments. The court decided that the same set of rules does not apply because (1) defendants in the first category are presumed to be innocent, but defendants in the second category have admitted their guilt and are not therefore entitled to many of the fundamental rights that those in the first category enjoy. In addition, probation revocation and revocation of deferred judgment proceedings are focused on whether the sentences that courts originally imposed are still appropriate; and (2) Colorado’s constitution and the pertinent bond statutes recognize the separation between the two categories. In the first, the law requires courts to set bond for defendants who await trial, subject only to a few clearly delineated exceptions. In the second, the law gives discretion to set bond.

Here, the court concluded that Johnson’s criminal impersonation and menacing cases fell into the second category; the revocation court therefore had discretion to deny his request for bond in those cases; and the court did not abuse its discretion when it denied his request for bond because the record supported its decision.

The appeal was dismissed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Sentencing Enhancement Properly Applied When Defendant Conceded to Crime of Violence

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States vSnyder on Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

Mr. Snyder pleaded guilty to possession of firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) while on probation. The probation officer recommended a base offense level of 20 pursuant to United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) § 4B1.2(a)(2), because Mr. Snyder had a prior conviction of a crime of violence. Mr. Snyder sought a reduction to the base offense level pursuant to USSG § 2K2.1(b)(2). The district court held that Mr. Snyder’s prior conviction of voluntary manslaughter was a crime of violence and he was not entitled to a reduced sentence. Mr. Snyder appealed.

The Tenth Circuit ordered supplemental brief to determine whether the residual clause of USSG § 4B1.2(a)(2) provided a basis for Mr. Snyder’s sentencing enhancement if his prior conviction of voluntary manslaughter was a crime of violence. Mr. Snyder’s supplement brief conceded that his prior conviction was a crime of violence. Further, the Supreme Court reasoned in Beckles “the advisory Guidelines do not fix the permissible range of sentences. To the contrary, they merely guide the exercise of a court’s discretion in choosing an appropriate sentence with the statutory range.”

The court concluded that the district court properly applied the sentencing enhancement and affirmed Mr. Snyder’s sentence.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Obvious Instructional Error Did Not Fundamentally Undermine Defendant’s Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hoggard on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Custody—Child and Family Investigator—Second Degree Forgery—Attempt to Influence a Public Servant—Invited Error—Waiver—Constructive Amendment—Lesser Included Offense—Jury Instructions—Mens Rea.

During a child custody dispute, Hoggard forwarded to the court-appointed child and family investigator a chain of emails between her and her ex-husband. Hoggard allegedly falsified that email chain by adding five sentences that made it appear that her ex-husband had threatened her. As a result of that alleged falsification, Hoggard was convicted of second degree forgery and attempt to influence a public servant.

As an initial matter, the People argued that the doctrines of invited error and waiver preclude appellate review of Hoggard’s instructional error claims. Although Hoggard’s counsel approved the disputed jury instructions, it was an oversight, not a strategy, and therefore not invited error. Further, the failure to object to the jury instructions was not a waiver under the circumstances of this case.

Hoggard contended on appeal that the trial court constructively amended the second degree forgery charge by instructing the jury on the uncharged and more serious offense of felony forgery. Although the trial court’s forgery instruction was erroneous, instructing the jury on felony forgery was not a constructive amendment because Hoggard was both charged with and convicted of second degree forgery, a lesser included offense of felony forgery. Further, there is no reasonable likelihood that the instructional error affected the outcome of the trial.

Hoggard next argued that her conviction for attempt to influence a public servant must be reversed because the trial court did not instruct the jury on the required mens rea for each element of the offense, thereby violating her constitutional due process rights. Although the trial court’s instruction on the charge tracked the statute, it did not expressly require the jury to find that Hoggard acted with intent as to the third and fourth elements of the crime: that she intended to attempt to influence a public servant and that she intended to do so by means of deceit. Nor did the instruction set off the mens rea requirement as a separate element. Accordingly, the trial court’s instruction on attempt to influence a public servant was erroneous and the error was obvious at the time of trial. However, because there was no reasonable probability that the trial court’s instructional error contributed to Hoggard’s conviction, it was therefore not plain error.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: District Court Incorrectly Determined “Special Circumstances” Warranted Disqualification

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Kendrick on Monday, July 3, 2017.

Disqualification—Special Circumstances.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court reviewed the district court’s decision to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial District from re-prosecuting defendant’s case after a second mistrial. The court concluded that the district court misinterpreted the “special circumstances” prong of C.R.S. § 20-1-107(2) in finding that the circumstances at issue satisfy the high burden required to bar an entire district attorney’s office from prosecuting a defendant. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the District Attorney’s Office, reversed the district court’s order, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Aggregate Sentences Amounting to Life for Juvenile Not Unconstitutional

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucero v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without Parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment—Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure 35(b) and 35(c).

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. Graham holds that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the sentence of life without parole for a juvenile non-homicide offender. Miller bars mandatory life without parole for any juvenile offender. Because life without parole is a specific sentence imposed for a single offense, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court thus held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Lucero’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. The court also considered whether the court of appeals erred by treating Lucero’s Rule 35(b) motion for sentence reduction as a Rule 35(c) motion challenging the constitutionality of his sentence. Because a court may properly characterize a mischaracterized issue, and Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, the court held that the court of appeals did not err. Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Possession of Controlled Substance at Direction of Legal Owner Not Affirmative Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Martinez on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Unlawful Possession—Prescription—Affirmative Defense—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant was charged with simple possession after the police found Percocet and Vicodin in her purse for which she did not have a prescription. At trial, defendant’s neighbor testified that she had prescriptions for both medications and that she had asked defendant to hold her prescriptions while they were out that evening because her purse was too small and she did not wish to leave the medications at home. A jury convicted defendant of possession and the trial court sentenced her to probation.

On appeal, defendant contended that she could lawfully possess the medications if she was “acting at the direction of the legal owner of the controlled substance,” and the trial court erred by failing to give the jury an affirmative defense instruction. The language defendant relies on in C.R.S. § 18-18-413 may present a defense to the crime of unauthorized possession of a prescribed controlled substance. However, C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is a separate offense, and it does not present an affirmative defense to unlawful possession under C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, under which defendant was charged. Further, the trial court did not err in failing to tie the instruction to the elemental instructions given to the jury because the error would have to have been plain and obvious, which it was not. Thus, the trial court did not commit plain error by declining to adopt this construction sua sponte.

Defendant further contended that the trial court plainly erred by not giving an affirmative defense instruction based on the prescription exception in C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c), which allows lawful possession by “[a]n ultimate user or a person in possession” of the medication “pursuant to a lawful order of a practitioner.” C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c) is an affirmative defense to unlawful possession of a controlled substance. However, this affirmative defense did not apply to the charges against defendant because she did not have a valid prescription from a practitioner. Further, even assuming that the court erred in sua sponte failing to give this affirmative defense, such error would not be reversible error because it was not obvious and substantial.

Finally, defendant argued that the prosecutor committed reversible error by arguing that C.R.S. § 18-18-413 was not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5 and by misstating the evidence in closing arguments. Because C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, and the prosecutor’s statements were reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence presented at trial, the prosecutor’s arguments both during voir dire and closing argument were proper.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Abuse of Discretion by Imposing Within-Guidelines Sentence after Variance Request

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Wireman on February 28, 2017.

The issue in this case was whether the Defendant’s sentence was procedurally reasonable when the district court failed to address Defendant’s non-frivolous arguments for a downward variance from his within-United States Sentencing Guidelines sentence.

Defendant pled guilty to five counts of distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. Defendant had also emailed a friend non-pornographic images of children that he personally knew and claimed at the time he had sexually abused. Defendant had prior sexual offenses that involved children, including being convicted of five different sexually based crimes involving minors, four of which included physical sexual conduct with a minor.

Section 2G2.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines  set Defendant’s base level offense for his crimes and applied several other Specific Offense Characteristics under § 2G2.2 to Defendant, which increased his offense level. These SOCs included increases because (i) the material involved prepubescent minors; (i) he distributed material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor; (iii) the material involved sadistic or violent depictions; (iv) he engaged in a pattern of activity involving sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor; and (v) because he used a computer to distribute the material. The corresponding USSG range for Defendant’s crimes and the added SOCs was 210-262 months’ imprisonment.

In his sentencing memorandum to the district court, Defendant argued that he was entitled to a downward variance from the USSG range because § 2G2.2 was inherently flawed. Defendant argued that the Sentencing Commission did not depend on empirical data when drafting § 2G2.2, that the range for his crimes was “harsher than necessary,” and that the SOCs in § 2G2.2 were utilized so often that they applied in nearly every child-pornography case and therefore fail to distinguish between various offenders. The district court never specifically mentioned this memorandum at sentencing, but alluded to it.

The district court ultimately sentenced Defendant to concurrent terms of 240 months’ imprisonment on each of the six counts against him. The district court addressed the personal nature of the non-pornographic images the Defendant emailed to his friend as well as Defendant’s prior criminal history. After handing down the sentence, the district court asked Defendant if they had “anything further,” to which Defendant’s counsel stated that they did not.

On appeal, Defendant claimed that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court did not adequately address his critiques of § 2G2.2. Because Defendant did not contemporaneously object in the district court to the method by which the district court arrived at a sentence, including that the sentencing court failed to explain adequately the sentence imposed, the Tenth Circuit applied the plain error standard of review, rather than de novo review. The Tenth Circuit explained that it finds plain error only when there is “(1) error, (2) that is plain, which (3) affects substantial rights, and which (4) seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the first prong of the plain error standard, whether the district court committed error.  The Tenth Circuit first noted that a district court must explain its reasons for rejecting a defendant’s non-frivolous argument for a more lenient sentence. Further, the Tenth Circuit held that Defendant’s critiques of § 2G2.2 were non-frivolous. In fact, the Tenth Circuit addressed how many of its sister circuit courts, along with itself, have described arguments criticizing § 2G2.2 as “quite forceful.”

However, the Tenth Circuit stated the principle that whether a district court can functionally reject or instead must explicitly reject a defendant’s arguments depends on whether the sentence imposed is within or outside of the USSG range. If the sentence is varied upwards of the USSG range, the district court must specifically address and reject the defendant’s arguments for a more lenient sentence. If it is within the USSG range, then the district court does not need to specifically address and reject each of the defendant’s arguments, so long as the court somehow indicates that it did not rest on the guidelines alone, but considered whether the USSG sentence actually conforms in the circumstances to the statutory factors.

In the Tenth Circuit, a within-guideline range sentence by the district court is entitled to a rebuttable presumption of reasonableness on appeal. The Tenth Circuit stated that this was true even if the USSG at issue arguable contains serious flaws or lacks an empirical basis.

In this case, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court was at least aware of Defendant’s arguments because the district court explicitly referenced Defendant’s sentencing memorandum at the sentencing hearing. Because the district court’s ultimate sentence was within the USSG range, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not need to explicitly reject Defendant’s arguments. The district court needed only to indicate that it did not rest on the guidelines alone, which the district court did. The district court stated that it relied on the USSG as well as Defendant’s extensive criminal history and the personal nature of the emailed images in determining Defendant’s sentence. The Tenth Circuit held that this acted as a functional rejection of Defendant’s policy disagreement with § 2G2.2. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not err by not explicitly responding to Defendant’s arguments for a more lenient sentence. Because the district court did not err, the Tenth Circuit did not address the three remaining prongs of the plain error review.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s sentence of Defendant.

Tenth Circuit Judge McKay wrote a concurrence to this decision. Judge McKay expressed his view that precedence requires a district court rejecting a defendant’s non-frivolous arguments to provide at least a general statement of its reasons for rejecting such arguments.  If the defendant’s arguments are that the USSG reflect an unsound judgment, Judge McKay states that the sentencing judge should go further to explain why he rejected those arguments. Here, the district court did not do as much.

Further, Judge McKay questioned the wisdom of applying the “reasonable” presumption to within-Guidelines sentences, regardless of a particular Guideline’s alleged lack of empirical support.  The Sentencing Commission did not use an empirical approach when developing § 2G2.2, and therefore Judge McKay believes that the Tenth Circuit should not presume the sentence’s reasonableness. Regardless, he agrees that the Majority followed the rules of the Tenth Circuit in applying the “reasonable” presumption as it stands.

Judge McKay believed that the district court erred, but he concurred in judgment because the Defendant still could not satisfy the requirement that the error affected his substantial rights. There was nothing on the record to suggest that the district court would have imposed a different sentence even if he explicitly considered Defendant’s arguments.