Hughes v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: December 8, 2017
  • Case #: 17-155
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 849 F.3d 1008 (11th Cir. 2017)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a defendant who enters into a plea agreement is eligible for a sentence reduction when there is a retroactive amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines applicable to the defendant’s sentencing range.

Petitioner entered into a plea agreement and pled guilty to drug and firearm offenses. At the sentencing hearing, the district court calculated the Petitioner’s Sentencing Guideline range. The district court then sentenced Petitioner according to the plea agreement.  The U.S. Sentencing Commission then amended the Sentencing Guidelines, which reduced Petitioner’s sentencing range. Petitioner filed a motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2), which allows a court to reduce the term of imprisonment of “a defendant who has been sentenced . . . based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” The district court denied Petitioner’s motion because the sentence in his plea agreement was not “based on” a sentencing range. The district court relied on Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion in a fractured 4-1-4 decision in Freeman v. United States, which states that the term of imprisonment imposed by a plea agreement is based on the agreement itself, and not on the judge’s calculation of the Sentencing Guidelines. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and explained that Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion controls because according to Marks v. United States, “when a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgements on the narrowest grounds.” On petition for writ of certiorari, Petitioner argues that Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence is not controlling because it is not on the narrowest grounds. While Justice Sotomayor focused on the role of the parties’ Guidelines calculations, the plurality focused on the role of the judge’s Guidelines calculations in deciding whether to accept or reject the agreement. Therefore, the concurrence is not narrower, but different. 

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