Practice That Made 5th Circuit an Outlier Snuffed Out by SCOTUS

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court rapped the Fifth Circuit on Monday for its unusual practice of refusing to entertain any argument that was not raised at the lower court level.

The case stems from a report of a suspicious car that prompted Dallas police to find meth and a gun on Charles Earl Davis in July 2016.

A man walks outside the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015. (AP photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Davis soon pleaded guilty to the resulting federal indictment but still had drug and gun charges pending at the state level from a 2015 arrest.

At sentencing, the Northern District of Texas gave Davis four years and nine months with a stipulation that any sentence later imposed for the 2015 crimes would run consecutively.

When Davis appealed, he said the sentences should have run concurrently as the offenses were part of the same course of conduct.

Because Davis had failed to object to the sentence determination at the District Court level, however, the Fifth Circuit deemed the argument waived.

Davis next petitioned for a writ certiorari. Granting that writ and summarily vacating the Fifth Circuit’s ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court noted that “almost every other Court of Appeals conducts plain-error review of unpreserved arguments, including unpreserved factual arguments.”

“Put simply, there is no legal basis for the Fifth Circuit’s practice of declining to review certain unpreserved factual arguments for plain error,” the unsigned opinion states.

On remand, the federal appeals court must determine whether Davis has satisfied the plain-error standard.

“I am pleased that Mr. Davis and others serving clearly erroneous sentences can seek release without this artificial barrier to relief,” federal public defender Kevin Page said in an email Monday.

A representative for the Justice Department did not return a request for comment.

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