Holguin-Hernandez v. U.S.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Appellate Procedure
  • Date Filed: February 26, 2020
  • Case #: 18-7739
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GORSUCH, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

A defendant advocating for a particular sentence communicates that a longer sentence is “greater than necessary” and has thereby informed the court of the legal error for an appellate challenge to the substantive reasonableness of the sentence.

Petitioner was convicted of drug trafficking while on supervised release. The Government asked for revocation of the release and additional consecutive time. Petitioner argued that no additional time or less than twelve months was sufficient to accomplish the goals of sentencing. The court imposed a consecutive term of twelve months. Petitioner appealed, arguing twelve months was unreasonably long and “greater than necessary.” The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Petitioner had not preserved the error without objecting to the reasonableness of the sentence and found no plain error. The Supreme Court vacated, and held that when a defendant advocates for a particular sentence, communicating that a longer sentence is “greater than necessary,” he or she has sufficiently informed the court of the error for appellate challenge to the reasonableness of the sentence. The Court reasoned that judges would ordinarily understand that advocating for a shorter sentence is a reasonableness challenge. Nothing more is needed to preserve the claim because Rule 51 does not require the use of specific language nor reference to the “reasonableness” standard of appellate review. Further, rule makers intended to abandon the need for formal “exceptions,” as long as the claimed error was “brought to the court’s attention.” Rule 51(a). VACATED and REMANDED.

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