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Standard of Review of Federal Sentence: There Is No Presumption That A Within Guidelines Sentence Is Reasonable.


United States v. Fernandez 

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

443 F.3d 19 (2d Cir. 2006)

Issue: Whether the within guidelines sentence imposed by the U.S. district court was presumptively reasonable.

Holding: A within guidelines sentence cannot be presumed to be reasonable.  Additionally, the Second Circuit held that when a defendant challenges the procedures of his sentencing proceeding or the reasonableness of the sentence imposed, he effectively claims that the sentence, whether a Guidelines sentence or a non-Guidelines sentence, was “imposed in violation of law,” 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(1). The Second Circuit therefore has authority to review sentences, whether Guidelines sentences or non-Guidelines sentences, for reasonableness.

Facts: defendant Mayra Fernandez (“Fernandez”) was convicted by a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Denise Cote, Judge) of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute at least one kilogram of substances or mixtures containing heroin.  Judge Cote determined that the advisory Guidelines range was 151 to 188 months and sentenced Fernandez principally to 151 months of imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release.

Legal AnalysisThe Second Circuit declined to establish an presumption, rebuttable or otherwise, that a within-guidelines sentence is reasonable.  The court stated: We recognize that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a guidelines sentence will fall comfortably within the broad range of sentences that would be reasonable in the particular circumstances.  Nonetheless, we have expressed a commitment to avoid the formulation of per se rules to govern our review of sentences for reasonableness.  We therefore decline to establish any presumption, rebuttable or otherwise, that a guidelines sentence is reasonable.  Although the guidelines range should serve  as a benchmark or a pint of reference or departure, for the review fo sentences,  as well as for their imposition, we examine the record as a whole to determine whether a sentence is reasonable in a specific case.