The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that a man convicted of bank fraud was sentenced improperly, because his crime was committed before Congress changed the federal sentencing guidelines.
The result is that Marvin Peugh won a new day in court for re-sentencing. He might, or might not, wind up serving less time, due to the complicated nature of the sentencing guidelines.
Here is the background of the case:
Court documents show that between 1999 and 2000, Peugh was alleged to have defrauded a Florida bank of $2.5 million. Peugh appealed his sentence to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and was denied. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision.
Although the crimes took place in 1999 and 2000, the scheme was not discovered until years later, according to court records.
After 2009, the federal sentencing guidelines for bank fraud increased. In 2010, a federal District Court in Florida sentenced Peugh for the crimes committed 1999 and 2000 to five years, 10 months.
The majority on the Supreme Court accepted Peugh’s argument that he should have been sentenced using the guidelines in effect during the commission of his crime, which ranged between two years, six months, to three years, one month.
Court documents show that Peugh raised the issue with the District Court at sentencing, invoked the Ex Post Facto Clause to U.S. Constitution.
In 1984, Congress created the United States Sentencing Commission to address disparities in sentences for similar crimes.
The commission developed the Sentencing Reform Act, which fixed ranges of imprisonment for criminal conduct to eliminate sentencing disparities.
In a related 2005 Supreme Court decision, Booker v. Washington, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines were modified on due process grounds, which gave judges more flexibility in sentencing. Portions of the Sentencing Reform Act, which made the ranges mandatory, were stricken, thus giving judges more sentencing discretion.
In its 20-page decision, the Supreme Court clarified its recent decision stating that “a District Court should begin all sentencing proceedings by correctly calculating the applicable Guidelines range…to secure nationwide consistency, (it) should be the starting point and the initial benchmark,” which was not done, according to the majority in the Peugh case.