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United States Supreme Court Holds That U.S. Appeals Courts Cannot Increase Sentences On Their Own Initiative

In Greenlaw v. United States ____ U.S. ____ (2008) decided on June 23, 2008, the United States Supreme Court overturned an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that increased a defendant’s sentence by fifteen years. 

The defendant was charged with various drug and firearm offenses.  The government alleged that he was a member of a gang that controlled crack sales using firearms as a means of deterring competition.  The defendant went to trial and was convicted on seven of the eight counts for which he was indicted.  He appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that his sentence was excessive.  The government did not appeal the sentence.  Nor for that matter did it file a cross-appeal.  Rather, it simply opposed the defendant’s appeal.  The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided on its own volition that the sentence was too low and it increased the sentence by fifteen years.  Greenlaw petitioned for certiorari and the Supreme Court heard the case.

The United States Supreme Court held that absent a government appeal or a cross appeal a court cannot on its own initiative increase a sentence.  The Court further stated that for appellate purposes, the parties frame the issues.  The function of the courts is one of a neutral arbiter of the issues raised by the parties.  This is known as the party presentation principle.  Any departures from this procedure have been justified usually in situations where a pro se litigant is being protected.  The Supreme Court continued that the plain error rule does not apply as an override to the cross-appeal requirement.

The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman is committed to protecting the rights of the accused at all stages.  We have argued before the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  If you have been convicted of a crime you have certain appellate rights that can be exercised.  Call us now to discuss your case and potential issues.

Related Web Resources:

Massachusetts Criminal Appeals Lawyers

United States Supreme Court Opinions