South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Sentence Longer than Guidelines Maximum Can Be Justified

Appeals court held that a trial court may impose a sentence that exceeds the maximum under the Sentencing Guidelines so long as the court provides a clear analysis of the reason that justifies the harsher penalty.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Sentencing Guidelines; Drug Dealing; Money Laundering; Extradition

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Cuevas was indicted, with nine others, for conspiring to distribute large quantities of cocaine, to launder money, and illegal possession of firearms. Several defendants were arrested, but Cuevas, in the Dominican Republic, avoided arrest until he was seized by Dominican authorities and sent to the U.S. under an extradition treaty. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 390 months in prison. He appealed, arguing that the sentence exceeded the maximum of 360 months as provided in the Sentencing Guidelines. The district judge imposed the higher sentence due to the leadership role played by Cuevas.


Affirmed. The Sentencing Guidelines, the Supreme Court has ruled, are “advisory” but courts are expected to give them deference. Here the trial court found that Cuevas was the leader of a large drug distribution operation and engaged in sophisticated money laundering. The court did not violate the Guidelines given its finding of the extent of the operation and the role played by Cuevas. The difference between the sentence and the maximum under the Guidelines is non-trivial, so the trial court must make sure it justifies such decisions.


U.S. v. Cuevas, 496 F.3d 256 (2nd Cir., 2007)

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