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One Court of Justice Blog

February 22, 2017

Defendant who pleads and agrees to sentence at low end of incorrectly scored guidelines range is entitled to sentence under properly scored range

If a defendant pleads guilty and agrees to a sentence “at the low end” of the sentencing guidelines range, the defendant is entitled to a sentence under the properly scored guidelines range, even if counsel agrees to an incorrect, higher guidelines range, said the Court of Appeals in People v. Smith, No. 330075.
Defendant pled guilty to armed robbery pursuant to a Cobbs plea agreement. During the plea hearing, defendant agreed that his sentence would be “at the low end” of a guidelines range of 126 to 210 months. The court subsequently sentenced defendant to 126 to 240 months’ imprisonment.
Approximately six months later, defendant filed a motion for resentencing, contending that although neither party raised the issue at sentencing, the sentencing guidelines were incorrectly calculated. Defendant indicated that the appropriate guidelines range was 81 to 135 months’ imprisonment, a range reflected in defendant’s presentencing information report. The trial court denied the motion for resentencing and defendant appealed.
The Court of Appeals considered whether a defendant who pleads guilty under a Cobbs agreement and agrees to a sentence at the low end of the guidelines range is entitled to a sentence at the low end of the properly scored guidelines range. The Court concluded that, although the prosecution and defense counsel agreed to an incorrect, higher guidelines range, defendant was nevertheless entitled to resentencing at the low end of the properly calculated guidelines range. A defendant may waive appellate review of sentencing by understandingly and voluntarily entering a plea agreement for a specific sentence exceeding the guidelines range. However, in this case, the Court reasoned that defendant did not agree to a specific sentence; rather, he agreed to a minimum sentence at the low end of the guidelines range.
Implicit in the plea agreement was the understanding that defendant would be sentenced “at the low end” of an accurate guidelines range. Because the minimum sentence of 126 months was not “at the low end” of the correct sentencing range as indicated in the presentencing information report, the trial court did not adhere to the plea bargain. Because a defendant must enter a guilty plea with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and consequences of the plea, due process required resentencing at the low end of the correctly calculated guidelines range. 

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