Williams v. United States, 503 U.S. 193 (1992)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 90-6297. Argued November 6, 1991—Decided March 9, 1992

Under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the United States Sentencing

Commission has promulgated Guidelines establishing sentencing ranges for different categories of federal offenses and defendants. The Act allows a district court to depart from a guideline range under certain circumstances, 18 U. S. C. 3553(b), and provides for limited appellate review of sentences, requiring a remand for resentencing if a sentence (1) was imposed in violation of law or "as a result of an incorrect application" of the Guidelines, 3742(f)(1), or (2) is an unreasonable departure from the applicable guideline range, 3742(f)(2). Petitioner Williams was convicted in the Federal District Court of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The applicable sentencing range for someone in his criminal history category and at his offense level is 18 to 24 months. However, the District Court departed upward from that range and sentenced him to 27 months' imprisonment, determining that his criminal history category was inadequate because it did not include two convictions that were too old to be counted in the Guidelines' criminal history calculation and because it did not reflect several prior arrests. The Court of Appeals agreed that the convictions were reliable information indicating more extensive criminal conduct than was reflected by Williams' criminal history category, but it rejected the District Court's reliance upon the prior arrests, finding that the Guidelines prohibit a court from basing a departure on a prior arrest record alone and that the District Court had not adequately explained the factual basis for its use of those arrests as a ground for departure. Although the District Court had used both proper and improper factors to justify departure, the Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence on the ground that it was reasonable in light of the proper factors standing alone.

Held: 1. A reviewing court may, in appropriate circumstances, affirm a sentence in which a district court's departure from a guideline range is based on both valid and invalid factors. Pp. 197-202. (a) Construing the plain language of the Guidelines and the Act, it is an incorrect application of the Guidelines for a district court to depart from the applicable sentencing range based on a factor that the Commission has already fully considered in establishing a guideline range or, as


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