Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

Irizarry v. United States


Is a district court required to provide a defendant with notice of its intent to depart from the sentence range established by the United States Sentencing Guidelines, if the grounds for departure are not identified in either the presentence investigation report or the Government's presentencing hearing submissions?


In 2001 Leah Smith obtained a divorce from and restraining against her former husband, Richard Irizarry, for spousal abuse. Between the divorce in 2001 and 2003, Irizarry sent Ms. Smith 255 e-mails, several threatening to kill Ms. Smith and her family. In 2003, Irizarry was arrested. Irizarry pleaded guilty to making threatening interstate communications to his ex-wife. As a result, he was sentenced to sixty months imprisonment, a sentence nine months longer than the maximum sentence recommended by Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The district court sentenced Irizarry to the maximum amount of time allow under the statute, because of the likelihood Irizarry would continue threatening his ex-wife. Irizarry objected to the sentence because the court failed to give advance notice of its intent to depart upward from the sentencing guidelines as required by Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 32(h) ("Rule 32(h)"). On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence, determining that Rule 32(h) does not apply to such sentence variances. In the Supreme Court, Irizarry argues that his sentence should be overturned because Rule 32(h) requires a district court to give the parties notice any time it intends to depart from the sentencing range recommended by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, on a ground not previously identified in the presentence report or a government submission.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(h), and the holding in Burns v.United States, 501 U.S. 129 (1991) requiring a court to provide reasonable notice to the parties that it is contemplating a departure from the applicable sentencing guideline range on a ground not identified for departure either in the presentence report or in a party's prehearing submission, has any continuing application in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).
Richard Irizarry married Leah Smith in 1995. Irizarry was physically and mentally abusive to Smith and their son. In 2000, Smith left Irizarry and moved across the country and, in 2001, divorced Irizarry and obtained a restraining order against him. See United States v. Irizarry, 458 F.3d 1208, 1210 (11th Cir. 2006). That year, Irizarry was arrested and sent to jail for violating the restraining order after he arrived at Smith's new apartment. See Brief of United States in Opposition to Writ of Certiorari at 3.


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Henderson v. United States (11-9307)

Petitioner Armarcion Henderson pled guilty in district court to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court judge gave Henderson a longer sentence than required to ensure that he could participate in a drug treatment program and Henderson did not object to the sentence. The district court denied Henderson's later motion to correct his sentence and he appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit reviewed the district court's decision for plain error under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) and, finding no substantial mistake by the district court, upheld the district court's sentencing. Henderson now argues that the Fifth Circuit should have reversed for plain error because, following Henderson's trial, the Supreme Court decided that judges cannot base a sentence on a defendant's rehabilitative needs.  The United States argues that because the law pertaining to sentencing was not settled at the time of his trial and the defendant did not object to his sentence, Henderson's claims do not meet the Rule 52(b) standard.  The Supreme Court's decision in this case will affect criminal defendants who use Rule 52(b) to appeal trial court decisions and will also impact judicial efficiency.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

When the governing law is unsettled at the time of trial but settled in the defendant's favor by the time of appeal, should an appellate court reviewing for "plain error" apply Johnson’s time-of-appeal standard, as the First, Second, Sixth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits do, or should the appellate court apply the Ninth Circuit’s time-of-trial standard, which the D.C. Circuit and the panel below have adopted?


Whether an appellate court can find plain error in a lower court's sentencing where the law was unsettled at the time of the appellant’s trial and the appellant did not object to his sentence at trial?


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