Seventh Circuit Review


Federal courts disfavor granting collateral relief from final criminal judgments. This mentality is premised on a need for finality in the criminal process; the idea that, at some point, a criminal case must come to an end. Post-conviction relief is available, however, where an error in the trial court causes a miscarriage of justice that must be remedied to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system.

For example, the Seventh Circuit has granted post-conviction relief where the sentencing court miscalculated the defendant's prison sentence by misapplying the career offender-sentencing enhancement under the then-binding Federal Sentencing Guidelines. However, the court has declined to extend this holding to allow similar relief where the defendant was sentenced under the "merely advisory" Sentencing Guidelines. According to the Seventh Circuit, this sentencing error is less serious where the judge is not bound to impose a sentence within the miscalculated sentencing range, and does not give rise to a miscarriage of justice that can be remedied through post-conviction relief.

In Peugh v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a misapplication of advisory Sentencing Guidelines could violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution. Despite the Court's recognition that, while the advisory Guidelines are no longer binding on sentencing judges, the Guidelines still achieve "binding legal effect," the Seventh Circuit, in Hawkins v. United States, declined to alter its stance regarding the availability of post-conviction relief from sentencing errors under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines. This Comment argues for a different result.

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