Stinson v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: City Council of Hialeah

DOCKET NO.: 91-8685
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 508 US 36 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1993
DECIDED: May 03, 1993

Paul J. Larkin, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
William Mallory Kent - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Stinson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1993 in Stinson v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 91-8685, Terry Lynn Stinson v. The United States.

Mr. Kent, you may proceed.

William Mallory Kent:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This Court has framed the question presented in Mr. Stinson's case as whether a court's failure to follow Sentencing Guideline commentary that gives specific direction that the offense of unlawful possession of a firearm by felony is not a crime of violence under Sentencing Guideline, section 4B1.1, and seeing section 4B.1.2's commentary note to whether that failure constitutes an incorrect application of the Sentencing Guidelines under 18 U.S.C. section 3742 (f)(1).

First, some background, the chronology.

Mr. Stinson committed his crimes, which included being a felon in possession of a firearm unlawfully, in October-November of 1989.

Mr. Stinson was sentenced in July of 1990, applying the November 1989 Sentencing Guideline manual, section 4B1.1, and the district court treated the felon in possession of a firearm charge as the necessary predicate for the career offender provision of the Sentencing Guidelines.

Then, in October of 1991, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's sentence, affirmed the sentence of a career fender... offender, treating the predicate offense of possession of a firearm by a felon as a crime of violence.

Then just days after the Eleventh Circuit's opinion came out affirming the sentence, on November 1st, 1991 the United States Sentencing Commission issued clarifying commentary, and that was amendment 433 stating that it was the Sentencing Commission's intent that the definition of crime of violence, for career offender purposes, did not include the crime of possession of a firearm by a felon.

In a timely manner, before Mr. Stinson's judgment and sentence was final on appeal, Mr. Stinson petitioned for rehearing to the Eleventh Circuit, basing his petition for rehearing on this clarifying amendment.

In March of 1992 the Eleventh Circuit in an opinion denied the petition for rehearing, holding that the Eleventh Circuit would not be bound by Sentencing Commission commentary.

This Court, in Williams v. United States just last term, held that a court's failure to follow Sentencing Commission policy statements can result in a misapplication of the Guidelines under section 3742(f).

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Kent, I understand the Government to essentially agree that a commentary that plausibly interprets the Guideline is binding on the sentencing court.

William Mallory Kent:

Yes, ma'am.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And to agree to with you that a court's failure to follow such a commentary would be an incorrect application of the Guidelines.

William Mallory Kent:

That is--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But I think the Government then says, however, here any... this commentary should not be applied retroactively in these circumstances.

So are you going to address that?

William Mallory Kent:

--Yes, ma'am.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is that question presented and... and should we decide it here?

William Mallory Kent:

Yes, this Court should decide.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The court below didn't address it.

William Mallory Kent:

No, it did not, but the question is necessarily subsumed in the question that has been accepted for cert by this Court.

The Justice is correct that the Government has conceded, in effect, that Mr. Stinson's position is correct, that commentary should have controlling weight.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So this case may turn on the retroactivity question.

William Mallory Kent:

Yes, Justice.

I would not refer to it as retroactivity.

Our position is that the commentary, as clarifying commentary... by definition, clarifying means that the Sentencing Commission was intending to explain what the meaning of this Guideline was.

That is, what the meaning of this Guideline was at the time Mr. Stinson was sentenced in July of 1990.

Antonin Scalia:

That may well be, but... but Congress can enact a piece of legislation which it calls clarifying legislation and we will not apply that retroactively.