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Media Alerts - United States of America v. Robert Paladino - Third Circuit
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October 13, 2014
  United States of America v. Robert Paladino - Third Circuit
Case Name: United States of America v. Robert Paladino - Third Circuit

Headline: Third Circuit rules denial of allocution during sentencing proceedings are reversible plain error even if the defense and prosecution reached a plea agreement.

Area of Law: Criminal Sentencing

Issues Presented: Whether a District Court commits plain error at a sentencing hearing when it fails to address the defendant even though the defense and prosecution had reached a plea agreement?

Brief Summary: Robert Paladino ("Paladino") pled guilty in November 21, 2006. On April 24, 2013, Paladino was released from custody and began the supervised release portion of his sentence. Between July and August of 2013, Paladino's probation officer filed two petitions reporting three violations of his supervised release conditions. During Paladino's revocation hearing on August 12, 2013, the only time the District Court addressed Paladino was when the District Court asked whether he understood the plea agreement. The Third Circuit vacated the District Court's sentence and remanded the proceedings for new sentencing. The Third Circuit concluded that the District Court committed reversible plain error because it did not afford Defendant the opportunity to speak during the sentencing hearing. The Third Circuit also concluded that a defendant must be provided with an opportunity for allocution even when there is a plea deal as the District Court has discretion to accept or deny the plea agreement.

Significance (if any):

Extended Summary: Robert Paladino pled guilty in November 21, 2006 to one count of distributing material depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor. On April 20, 2007, The District Court sentenced Paladino to 120 months imprisonment followed by a ten-year term of supervised release. On April 24, 2013, Paladino was released from custody and began the supervised release portion of his sentence. Between July and August of 2013, Paladino's probation officer filed two petitions reporting three violations of his supervised release conditions. During Paladino's revocation hearing on August 12, 2013, the District Court asked Paladino's counsel whether they contested any of the alleged violations. Paladino's counsel stated objections. The Government and Paladino's defense counsel reached an agreement for a period of imprisonment of eight months followed by the remaining supervised release. For the first time, the District Court addressed Paladino and asked whether he understood the deal, to which Paladino's reply was "Yes." The District Court sentenced Paladino pursuant to the agreement and modified the terms of the supervised release conditions. Paladino appealed, arguing the District Court committed plain error by not allowing Paladino the opportunity of allocution.

The Third Circuit vacated the District Court's sentence and remanded the proceedings for new sentencing. The Third Circuit concluded the denial of allocution rights of a criminal defendant was reversible plain error. Since the Supreme Court has previously ruled that district courts must unambiguously address themselves to the defendant, the Third Circuit determined there was a plain error by the District Court in denying Paladino the right to speak. Second, the Third Circuit concluded the right of allocution is a substantial right that could play a role in sentencing decisions, especially as the District Court had discretion during sentencing. Lastly, the Third Circuit concluded that even in the case of plea agreements, the District Court still has the discretion to approve or deny the agreements, and therefore allocution is a substantial right even when an agreement is reached.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/133689p.pdf.

Panel (if known): Fuentes, Nygaard, and Greenaway, Jr., Circuit Judges.

Argument Date: June 24, 2014

Argument Location: Philadelphia, PA

Date of Issued Opinion: October 8, 2014

Docket Number: No. 13-3689

Decided: Vacated and remanded to the District Court for resentencing.

Case Alert Author: Ilya Gomelsky

Counsel: Sarah S. Gannett, Esq. for Appellant; Rebecca Ross Haywood, Esq. and Michael L. Ivory, Esq. for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Greenway, Jr., Circuit Judge.

Circuit: 3rd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 10/13/2014 02:54 PM     3rd Circuit  

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