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April 10, 2009

First Circuit finds plain error when sentence based on inaccurate facts

The First Circuit handed down a notable little sentencing opinion dealing with plain error yesterday in US v. Gonzalez-Castillo, No. 07-2134 (1st Cir. April 9, 2009) (available here).  Here is how the opinion starts:

In this sentencing appeal, appellant, Ynocencio González-Castillo ("González") –- a Dominican national who pled guilty to unlawfully entering the United States after being previously deported –- challenges the sentence imposed on him by the district court.  The only issue presented is whether the sentencing court committed plain error when it imposed a sentence based, in part, on a fact not supported by the record.  After careful consideration, we conclude that the facts presented by this appeal require that appellant's sentence be vacated and that the case be remanded for resentencing.

The key inaccurate fact in Gonzalez-Castillo concerned the defendant having a prior unlawful entry conviction, which he did not in fact have.  As the First Circuit opinion details, the record makes pretty clear that the sentencing court relied heavily on this inaccurate fact at sentencing.  It is heartening to see the First Circuit recognize that the resulting sentencing was infected by plain error and had to be corrected; it is disheartening to discover that the Justice Department was sought to have affirmed an erroneous sentence based on inaccurate facts.

April 10, 2009 at 01:41 PM | Permalink


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Is anybody actually surprised by the Justice Department's intransigence?

C'mon, it's about Ws and Ls -- and the career aggrandizement that comes with lots of Ws -- not truth and justice or any of the other delusional slogans we like to hear ourselves say.

Posted by: John K | Apr 13, 2009 6:37:30 AM

When I worked in the courts, I did once see a federal prosecutor recommend a plain-error remand for consideration of safety-valve relief where the district court had not mentioned safety-valve on the record, although the defendant appeared to be eligible. (Defense counsel had not objected in the district court.)

That said, the sad reason that everybody was so surprised by the prosecutor's action (including the judges, who went out of their way to credit the prosecutor at oral argument) was that, in general, John K is absolutely right.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 13, 2009 10:30:59 AM

Isn't a plain error of fact an open and shut negligence tort by the judge and by the prosecutor? What is the justification for their self-dealt unlawful tort immunity? There is none.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 14, 2009 12:24:04 AM

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