By Katharine Yale

Yesterday, in the consolidated unpublished criminal case United States v. Owens, the Fourth Circuit reviewed the sentences of two defendants, Matthew Owens and Dennis Ross, and affirmed the district court’s judgment. On review, the two defendants asked the Fourth Circuit to determine whether the court below plainly erred in calculating Owens’s criminal history category or whether the court below imposed an unreasonable sentence on either defendant.

Owens Did Not Object to His Criminal History Calculation, Therefore the Standard of Review is Plain Error

To find plain error, the appellant must show that an error occurred, that it was plain, and that it affected the appellant’s substantial rights.   If plain error is found by the reviewing court, the correction of such error is still within the reviewing court’s discretion and such discretion should not be exercised “unless the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”

Here, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court did not err in calculating Owens’s criminal history category because it properly added one criminal history point for his past shoplifting conviction.

In Reviewing the Reasonableness of a Conviction, the Reviewing Court Will Use an Abuse of Discretion Standard

First, under the abuse of discretion standard, the reviewing court will look for any significant procedural errors, which could include an improper calculation of the sentencing Guidelines range, selecting a sentence based on erroneous facts, or failing to explain the sentence.  If there is no procedural error, the reasonableness of the sentence will be reviewed using the totality of the circumstances. Using this test, the sentence must be “’sufficient, but not greater than necessary,’ to satisfy the goals of sentencing.”

On appeal, the court will presume that a sentence with a properly calculated advisory Guidelines range is reasonable, and the defendant bears the burden to rebut that presumption. He may only do so by showing that it is unreasonable when compared to the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors.

The Defendants’ Sentences are Reasonable

Here, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court committed no procedural error because both defendants received adequate, individualized explanations of their sentences and both sentences were within the Guidelines range. The Fourth Circuit also found that both sentences are substantively reasonable.

Fourth Circuit Finds No Meritorious Issues for Appeal and Affirms the District Court’s Sentencing Judgment