10 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Peugh v. United States

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Peugh v. United States

Peugh was convicted of federal bank fraud in 2009, and sentenced in 2010. At the time of his offense (1999-2000), the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines suggested a range of 30-37 months. Subsequent amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines made the base level for his conduct more severe, so that in 2010 the same conduct suggested a range of 70-87 months (and he was sentenced to 70 months). The District Court rejected Peugh's Ex Post Facto claim, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The question before the Court was whether a sentencing court violates the Ex Post Facto Clause by using the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in effect at the time of sentencing rather than the Guidelines in effect at the time of the offense, if the newer Guidelines create a significant risk that the defendant will receive a longer sentence. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that that the Ex Post Facto Clause is violated when a defendant is sentenced under Guidelines promulgated after he committed his criminal acts and the new version provides a higher sentencing range than the version in place at the time of the offense. As a result, the Seventh Circuit's decision was reversed and Peugh's sentence will have to be recalculated using the original sentencing guidelines at the time he committed the offense. The practical impact of this decision is that changes to Sentencing Guidelines will not be retroactive; sentences will have to be calculated using the guidelines at the time the offense was originally committed (as opposed to when the sentencing occurs).
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