United States v. Ochoa

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-22-2015
  • Case #: 14-10124
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Rawlinson for the Court; Circuit Judge Murguia; Dissent by Chief District Judge Navarro
  • Full Text Opinion

A district court's sentence of imprisonment will not be final unless there is a formal break in proceedings where it can be logically and reasonably determined that the sentencing has finished.

Ramon Ochoa was indicted for possessing firearms and ammunition, and for conspiracy to distribute marijuana while a felon. He pled guilty to the possession of firearms and ammunition charges. Ochoa’s probation officer sought to revoke his probation while he was on supervised release because Ochoa failed to participate in a residential reentry center program as he was directed. At the residential reentry center, Ochoa was confrontational and disrespectful to staff members and violated several policies. A revocation proceeding was held where the district court judge determined that the statutory minimum for his violation was two years imprisonment and that the sentencing guidelines ranged between seven and thirteen months. The judge first sentenced Ochoa to twelve months and one day, but Ochoa began to laugh. The judge lectured Ochoa about being disrespectful to him and changed his sentence to two years. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit analyzed whether the district court lacked jurisdiction to increase Ochoa’s sentence once a lower sentence was stated, relying in part on Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35. Rule 35 defines sentencing as an oral statement of a sentence, but the panel found that the rule does not require that the first sentence that a district court states during a hearing to be treated as the final sentence, as such a holding would deprive the district court of jurisdiction to change sentences during the same hearing. To treat the first statement as the final sentence would take away the district court’s ability react to fluctuating circumstances that could arise during the same sentencing hearing, whether it favors the defendant or not. The panel held a sentence would not be final unless there is a “formal break” in proceedings, where a logical and reasonable person could determine that the sentencing had ended. AFFIRMED.

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