By Joshua P. Bussen

Today, in US v. Tapia-Martinez, the Fourth Circuit released an unpublished opinion affirming a sentence by the Eastern District of North Carolina.  The defendant, Mr. Tapia-Martinez, appealed a three-year sentence set down by the E.D.N.C after he plead guilty to a charge of illegal reentry of an aggravated felon.

Is a Three-Year Sentence Reasonable? 

The sole issue on appeal was whether the E.D.N.C.’s sentence of three years was reasonable for the crime of illegal reentry of an aggravated felon.

What Happened?

Mr. Tapia-Martinez has not been in the United States for seven years.  He attempted to use this fact to convince the district court judge to mitigate his sentence, as he claimed it showed that he had “demonstrated his willingness to obey the law and remain outside of the country.”  Despite his “willingness to obey the law,” Tapia-Martinez claimed that he only reentered the country to regain custody of his autistic son, and planned to return to Mexico immediately after collecting him.  However, the district court did not find his argument persuasive, sentencing him to three-years in prison, a sentence at the “high end” of the Guidelines range.

How is a “Reasonable” Sentence Determined?

Appellate courts review sentences for reasonableness under an abuse of discretion standard. However, if the sentence is within the range of reasonable sentencing under the “properly calculated Guidelines,” the appellate court will presume that it was proper unless the “defendant shows ‘that the sentence is unreasonable when measured against the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012) factors.’ ”

How Did the Court Make Its Decision?

The Fourth Circuit affirmed this judgment because the sentence was within the “range” of reasonable sentences, thus creating a rebuttable presumption of reasonableness that the defendant failed to rebut.  The court found that the defendant’s argument amounted to little more than a “disagreement” with the district court’s weight afforded to the sentencing factors; an argument that was not sufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of reasonableness in this case.

What Was the Outcome?

The sentence of thirty-six-months given to Mr. Tapia-Martinez by the E.D.N.C. was affirmed.

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