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High Court Takes Up Sentencing Appeal Objection Issue

June 3, 2019, 1:34 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to clear up an issue that has divided the federal courts of appeal about what standard courts should apply when reviewing certain sentencing appeals.

The issue is whether a formal objection after pronouncement of sentence is necessary to invoke appellate reasonableness review of the length of a defendant’s sentence.

The standard of review courts apply can affect the outcome of a case.

Gonzalo Holguin was convicted in federal court in 2016 of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and sentenced to two years in prison followed by two years of supervised release.

While on supervised release, he was arrested on marijuana charges again. He got a five-year sentence on the new charge, plus another year to run consecutively for violating supervised release on the first charge.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Holguin’s argument that the consecutive year term was substantively unreasonable. Holguin failed to raise his challenge in the district court, so his claim only warranted plain-error review, the Fifth Circuit said.

Holguin wanted the appeals court to apply a reasonableness standard of review as other circuits have, which is more favorable to the defense than the plain-error standard.

Notably, the federal government conceded in its brief in opposition that the Fifth Circuit incorrectly applied plain-error but maintained that didn’t affect the outcome.

The case is Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, U.S., 18-7739, review granted 6/3/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at