Rita v. United States

PETITIONER: Victor A. Rita
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 06-5754
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 551 US 338 (2007)
GRANTED: Nov 03, 2006
ARGUED: Feb 20, 2007
DECIDED: Jun 21, 2007

Michael R. Dreeben - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Thomas N. Cochran - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Victor Rita received a thirty-three month sentence from a trial judge after a jury convicted him of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. Though the sentence fell within the range prescribed by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and under the statutory maximum, Rita appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He argued that the judge should not have sentenced him without explicitly considering factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) that might justify imposing a lesser sentence. The government argued that the judge could presume the sentence reasonable if it fell within the guidelines, even without an explicit analysis of 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Supreme Court had previously ruled in U.S. v. Booker that sentencing judges could only treat the guidelines as advisory, not as mandatory. The Fourth Circuit accepted the government's arguments and ruled that a presumption of reasonableness for within-Guidelines sentences did not violate Booker.


1) Does the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Booker allow courts to accord a presumption of reasonableness to sentences that fall within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines? 2) If so, may a court presume a within- Guidelines sentence reasonable without an explicit analysis of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors that might justify a lesser sentence?

Media for Rita v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 2007 in Rita v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 21, 2007 in Rita v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has our opinion this morning in case 06-5754, Rita versus United States.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Under our decision in United States versus Booker, the Federal Court appeals or to review federal sentences and set aside those that they find unreasonable.

That’s basically the standard.

Several Circuits have held that when they do that they should presume that a sentence that the District Judge imposed within the properly calculated the United States Sentencing Guideline Range, they should assume that within guideline range sentence is a reasonable sentence so it’s okay.

Now we granted certiorari to consider whether such a presumption is legally permissible and we conclude that it is.

The presumption of reasonableness reflects the fact that by the time an Appeals Court is considering a within guideline sentence on review.

Both the sentencing judge and the sentencing commission will have reached the same conclusion about the proper sentence in that particular case.

That doubled determination significantly increases the likelihood that the sentence is a reasonable one.

Moreover, the sentencing statute envisions that both the sentencing judge and the commission will carryout the same basic statutory objectives.

The judge will do that by focusing on the case at hand.

The commission will do that by looking at large numbers of sentences in similar cases.

The Court of Appeals reasonableness presumptions simply recognizes that real world circumstance when judges’ discretionary decision is the same as the commission’s view of the appropriate sentence in that kind of case it is probable that the sentence is reasonable.

We add that in our view the Appellate Court’s use of the presumption ordinarily does not violate the Sixth Amendment.

We add further that the sentencing judge in this case explained his reasons for his choice of sentence insufficient detail and we also find that the sentencing judge here adequately explained to the defendant that he might apply a guideline sentence, he might depart within the departure framework that the guidelines create or he could treat the guidelines as advisory and decide not to apply them at all.

For all these reasons and for other reasons that we set forth in our opinion we affirm the Court of Appeals which in turn in respect to sentencing affirm the District Court.

Justice Stevens has filed concurring opinion which Justice Ginsburg joins in part.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Thomas has joined and Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion.