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Sentencing Guideline Case Heads to High Court

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Thursday took up the issue of how to handle a lower court's use of incorrect sentencing guidelines for a deportee convicted of being in the country illegally.

Saul Molina-Martinez pleaded guilty to being in the United States illegally after deportation, having been previously convicted of an aggravated felony. A Southern Texas district court sentenced him to 77 months in prison, the shortest sentence in a 77 to 96-month sentencing guideline range.

Molina-Martinez appealed, arguing the correct sentencing range was 70 to 87 months. The Fifth Circuit agreed last December, finding that Molina-Martinez showed plain error in a criminal history calculation.

However, the New Orleans-based appeals court upheld the district court's sentence, ruling that Molina-Martinez did not prove that he would have received a lesser sentence under proper guidelines because his 77-month sentence also falls within the correctly-calculated range.

"Molina-Martinez has not shown additional evidence that the sentence affected his substantial rights," the Fifth Circuit ruling states. "The mere fact that the court sentenced Molina-Martinez to a low-end sentence is insufficient on its own to show that Molina-Martinez would have received a similar low-end sentence had the district court used the correct guidelines range."

The U.S. Supreme Court granted Molina-Martinez leave to proceed in forma pauperis, which involves waiving costs and fees. Per its custom, the nation's high court did not comment on its decision to take up his case.

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