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Failure to Reference Sentencing Guidelines Not Fatal

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 25, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Mexican citizen who pled guilty to violating U.S. immigration law cannot have his sentence overturned because the district court failed to directly reference applicable sentencing guidelines, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday. Jose Solano-Rosales was sentenced to supervised release after he pled guilty to entering the U.S. without authorization after having been previously removed subsequent to a felony conviction.

During the sentencing, the district court never explicitly referenced the relevant federal sentencing guidelines, which generally recommended against supervised release. However, the district court's error did not impact Solano-Rosales' substantive rights, the Sixth Circuit ruled, since the reasons for supervised release and its deterrent effects were thoroughly discussed during sentencing.

Reasons for Supervised Release Adequately Explained

Prior to Solano-Rosales' current sentence, he had been deported from the U.S. three times and had also been thrice convicted on domestic abuse charges, the last leading to a felony conviction under Michigan's three strikes law. The district court had found that Solano-Rosales' actions "demonstrated a total lack of regard both for the immigration laws of our country as well as state law involving domestic violence." The court emphasized the deterrence factors of Solano-Rosales' supervised release, stating numerous times that the desired effect was to deter future offenses and ensure that the district court retains jurisdiction should Solano-Rosales reoffend.

Failure to Reference Guidelines Not Enough to Impact Substantive Rights

However, the court did not discuss sentencing guidelines which stated that a district court should generally not impose supervised release terms where not required by statute and when the defendant is likely to be deported. Commentary to the sentencing guidelines further states that future prosecutions are adequate deterrence to illegal returns to the United States, though supervised release may be appropriate in certain circumstances.

The Sixth Circuit faulted the district court for failing to explain these guidelines in its sentencing discussion. However, the court also found that Solano-Rosales' substantial rights were unaffected by the error. Though the particular guidelines were not directly discussed, the court's reasoning was explicit, tied to the record and articulate enough for the sentence to be adequately explained.

Since Solano-Rosales' substantial rights were not impinged by the court's error, the Sixth Circuit affirmed his sentence, a reminder that, while procedural errors can often time result in a sentence being vacated, they are no silver bullet.

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