Certiorari Granted By Supreme Court In Three New Criminal Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted certiorari in three new criminal cases. Certiorari is a latin term that is most commonly associated with a writ of certiorari, a discretionary order issued by the Supreme Court when it agrees to review a lower court's decision. A writ of certiorari will not issue unless four Justices agree to hear a case.

Certiorari was granted in:

  • Koons v. United States, No. 17-5716
  • Hughes v. United States, No. 17-155
  • United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, No. 17-312

Koons v. United States

In Koons the Court agreed to decide the following question:

Whether a defendant who is subject to a statutory mandatory minimum sentence, but who substantially assisted the government and received a sentence below the mandatory minimum pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3553(e), is eligible for a further sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), when the Sentencing Commission retroactively lowers the advisory sentencing guidelines range that would have applied in the absence of the statutory mandatory minimum.

When the Sentencing Commission enacted Amendment 782 to the Guidelines, more commonly known as "drugs minus 2," it authorized courts to grant 3582(c)(2) relief to defendants who were sentenced below the mandatory minimum because of cooperation.

The Eighth Circuit, however, recently held that defendants who were sentenced below a mandatory minimum were not sentenced "based on" the Guidelines, but rather the Government's cooperation reduction motion. As a result, this class of defendants are ineligible for Amendment 782 relief because the ultimate sentence was not based on the Guidelines.

The Fourth Circuit has held otherwise in United States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 253 (4th Cir. 2015).

The Supreme Court will now resolve this split in authority. A decision in Hughes is expected by June 2018.

The certiorari petition in Koons, and the Government's response to the petition can be found here:

Koons certiorari petition

Government's response to Koons petition

Hughes v. United States

The Supreme Court also granted certiorari in Hughes v. United States, No. 17-5716.

The question in Hughes is:

Whether, as a four-justice plurality in Freeman v. United States concluded, a defendant who enters into a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement is generally eligible for a sentence reduction if there is a later, retroactive amendment to the relevant Sentencing Guidelines range.

The federal circuits are divided 10-2 on this specific issue. Defendants with an 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement cannot receive Amendment 782 relief in the 1st-8th, 10th & 11th Circuits unless the plea agreement itself  bases the agreed upon sentence on the Guidelines. Most binding pleas do not do this.

This could be a really significant decision for defendants with 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreements if the Court holds that a plea agreement's failure to incorporate Guideline calculations does not bar 3582 relief.

A decision should be issued by June 2018.

You access a copy of the certiorari petition and response here:

Hughes certiorari petition and reply

Government response to Hughes certiorari petition.

United States v. Sanchez-Gomez

Finally, the Court granted certiorari in United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, No. 17-312.

The question presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in asserting authority to review respondents' interlocutory challenge to pretrial physical restraints and in ruling on that challenge notwithstanding its recognition that respondents' individual claims were moot.

The Ninth Circuit previously declared the District of Arizona's practice of restraining pre-trial defendants during court proceedings unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will decide if the Ninth Circuit should made a decision on this issue in the first place because of the procedural posture of the case at the time of appeal.

The petition, response and reply can be accessed at:

United States v. Sanchez-Gomez petition for certiorari

Response to petition for certiorari

Reply to Response

A decision in the case is also expected by June 2018.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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