By Diana C. Castro
Today, in the criminal case United States v. Santos Rios-Santos, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, in an unpublished opinion, the decision of the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The District Court denied the defendant’s request for a below-Guidelines sentence.
Defendant Argues for an Individualized Reason
Santos Rios-Santos contends that the District Court erred in failing to adequately provide an individualized reason explaining why it denied his request for a sentence below the advisory Guidelines.
Moreover, Santos Rios-Santos argues that the fact of his prior felony conviction should have been presented to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defendant Pled Guilty to Illegal Reentry Into the United States Following a Conviction
Santos Rios-Santos pled guilty to illegal reentry into the United Stated after having been convicted of an aggravated felony in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1236(b) (2012). At his sentencing hearing before the District Court, the defendant’s attorney requested a sentence below the advisory Guidelines range of 24–30 months’ imprisonment. The District Court rejected the request and instead sentenced Santos Rios-Santos to 28 months.
The Fourth Circuit Applies “Reasonableness” Standard
The Fourth Circuit reviewed the sentence for procedural and substantive reasonableness. Following that determination, the court considered whether the District Court (1) applied the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012) factors, (2) analyzed any arguments presented by the parties, and (3) sufficiently explained the selected sentence.
The District Court’s Explanation Was Sufficient Under Gall and Carter
Looking for abuse of discretion, the Fourth Circuit reviewed both the procedural and substantive reasonableness of the defendant’s sentence. Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 46 (2007).
Having determined the District Court properly calculated the sentence under the Guidelines, the Fourth Circuit considered whether the District Court considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012) factors, analyzed any of the parties’ arguments, and sufficiently explained the selected sentence. See Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338, 346–47; United States v. Carter, 564 F.3d 325, 330 (4th Cir. 2009). Here, the court held that the District Court’s explanation was sufficient to show that it conducted the analysis necessary under Gall and Carter.
Finally, the Fourth Circuit reviewed the substantive reasonableness of the sentence “taking into account the totality of the circumstances, including the extent of any variance from the Guidelines range.” United States v. Pauley, 511 F.3d 468, 473 (4th Cir. 2007). The court applied a presumption of correctness because the sentence was within the properly-calculated Guidelines range. Rita, 551 U.S. at 346–47.
Regarding the defendant’s argument that his prior conviction should have been presented to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the Fourth Circuit points out that Santos Rios-Santos conceded that his argument is foreclosed by Almendarez-Torres v. United States, which held that a statute permitting an increased sentence based on a prior conviction is a penalty provision, not the element of an offense. 523 U.S. 224, 228–35. 239–47 (1998).
Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Affirmed
Applying the reasonableness standard and the analysis under Gall and Carter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s selected sentence.