SCOTUS Opinion: Criminal Defendant Preserves Appellate Claim by Arguing for Lesser Sentence

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 51(b), a criminal defendant wishing to “preserve a claim of error” for appeal must inform the trial judge “of the action the party wishes the court to take, or the party’s objection to the court’s action and the grounds for that objection.” In Holguin-Hernandez v. United States, when prosecutors sought a sentence of 12 to 18 months, the defendant argued that 18 U.S.C. sec. 3553’s sentencing factors required either no sentence, or a sentence under 12 months. When the trial court imposed a 12 month sentence, defendant appealed, arguing that the sentence was unreasonable because it was “greater than necessary[y] to accomplish the goals of sentencing” under Kimbrough v. United States, 552 US. 85 (2007). The Fifth Circuit held that the defendant had waived the argument by not properly lodging his objection to the trial court. The Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Breyer, reversed, holding that the defendant’s argument that he should get no sentence, or a lesser sentence, preserved his claim that his sentence was unreasonably long. There was no need for the defendant to specifically state that he was objecting based on “reasonableness.” Justice Alito, joined by Justice Gorsuch, filed a concurrence to note certain circumstances that were not addressed by the Court’s ruling.

A link to the opinion is here.