Peugh v. United States

Case:  Peugh v. United States, 12-62

The Court’s Opinion

Summary of the Case:

Citing the “ex post facto” clause of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court decided on June 10, 2013, that a court cannot use the sentencing guidelines that were in effect at the time of sentencing if they are higher than the guidelines in effect when the crime was committed. To do otherwise, the Court held, would expose defendants to tougher punishments than they were likely to receive when they originally committed the offense. This is unconstitutional.

The defendant in the case, Marvin Peugh, committed a fraud in 1998, when the guideline range for his crime would have resulted in a sentence of 30-37 months.  By the time he was convicted and sentenced in 2009, however, the guideline had increased significantly, to 70-87 months. The district court sentenced him to 70 months. On appeal, Peugh argued that the district court should have used the shorter guidelines that existed in 1998, when he committed the fraud.  The government said it did not matter, because today the guidelines are merely advisory.

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, the court must first calculate the guideline range that corresponds to the crime. Then it may vary upward or downward from that range before deciding on the final sentence.  In this case, the Supreme Court decided that the district court erred when it started by calculating Peugh’s sentence using the higher 2009 guideline range rather than the lower 1998 guideline range.

In reversing his sentence, the Supreme Court said that the now-higher advisory guidelines for Peugh’s fraud presented a “sufficient risk of increasing the measure of punishment attached to the covered crimes,” and using those guidelines would violate the Constitution’s “ex post facto” provision.

The district court will now have to resentence Peugh using the 1998 guidelines.  Because the guidelines are advisory, the district court could still decide to vary upward to Peugh’s original 70-month sentence. The district court is only prohibited from using the higher 2009 guidelines as its starting point when re-sentencing Peugh.

What it means:

Courts cannot use the sentencing guidelines that were in effect at the time of sentencing if they are higher than the guidelines in effect when the crime was committed.