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On Dec. 10, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, a case involving a dispute over whether making a formal objection after pronouncement of the defendant’s sentence is necessary to invoke appellate review of the reasonableness of the sentence’s length.

In 2016, Petitioner Gonzalo Holguin-Hernandez pled guilty in federal district court to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and was sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment followed by two years of supervised release.  As a citizen of Mexico, he also admitted to being unlawfully present in the United States. In October 2017, after completing his term of incarceration and starting his supervised release, Holguin-Hernandez was removed from the United States.  In addition to the condition that he not commit another federal, state, or local crime, the terms of supervised release required that Holguin-Hernandez not illegally reenter the United States.  In November 2017, was arrested by Border Patrol agents, admitted having carried marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico, and again pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute.  He was sentenced to 60 months of imprisonment and 5 more years of supervised release.  The U.S. Probation office then alleged that Holguin-Hernandez had violated the terms of supervised release relating to his initial conviction and sought revocation.  In a subsequent hearing he admitted the violations and was sentenced to 12 months of imprisonment, to run consecutively to the 60-month term of imprisonment for the second drug trafficking offense.  Although Holguin-Hernandez’s counsel argued against a consecutive sentence during the hearing as unnecessary in light of the considerably longer drug trafficking one, she did not formally object or seek reconsideration after the judge imposed the revocation sentence.

On appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the sentence.  Although Holguin-Hernandez argued that his sentence was longer than necessary to effectuate the statutory factors to be considered when imposing a sentence, the Court reasoned that he had not actually raised that objection in district court and therefore the sentence would be reviewed for plain error only.  The Court found no plain error, indicating that the sentence fell within the Guidelines range and noting the Guidelines recommendation that a term of imprisonment for violation of supervised release be imposed consecutively to any other term the defendant might be serving.  Other federal circuit courts of appeals had taken a different approach, however, and the Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to address whether a formal objection after pronouncement of sentence is necessary to invoke appellate reasonableness review of the length of a defendant’s sentence.

To discuss the case, we have Daniel Guarnera, Associate at Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick.

As always, the Federalist Society takes no particular legal or public policy positions. All opinions expressed are those of the speakers.