United States v. Tapia

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 12-08-2011
  • Case #: 09-50248
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court, and Circuit Judge Schroeder and District Judge Hudson
  • Full Text Opinion

A sentencing court errs when considering a drug treatment program in determination of the length of a sentence for transporting undocumented illegal aliens without presentation and for financial gain.

Alejandra Tapia was arrested by border patrol agents when she attempted to cross the United States-Mexico border with two undocumented aliens hidden in the car. She was indicted for bringing an illegal alien into the country without presenting the alien, and doing so for financial gain and was released on her own recognizance. Later, she did not appear for a motion hearing, and was indicted under a charge of knowing failure to appear. She was then convicted by a grand jury on immigration and bail-jumping charges. A district judge sentenced Tapia to 51 months, which was within the Sentencing Guidelines range. The district judge's reasons for the sentence involved Tapia's struggle with drug abuse, and the need for Tapia to attend a rehabilitation program. Tapia never objected to the imposed sentence. Tapia appealed the sentence, and challenged the district judge's consideration of Tapia needing drug rehabilitation. The Court affirmed the sentence. However, the Supreme Court reversed concluding that sentencing courts are precluded from sentencing an offender to promote rehabilitation. Because Tapia did not object at sentencing, the Court reviewed her sentence for plain error. "Under the plain error standard of review, the appellant must show that "there is (1) error that is (2) plain, (3) affects substantial rights, and (4) seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings." The government conceded the first two prongs. The Court concluded Tapia demonstrated the error fit the second two prongs. The Court held there was a reasonable probability that Tapia would have received a different sentence if the district court had not erred, and not considered the treatment program in sentencing. VACATED AND REMANDED

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