United States v. McClain (7th Cir. October 2021)

The Federal Docket

November 17, 2021

In 2012, David McClain pled guilty and was sentenced on two separate cases. Between 2013 and 2021, the sentence on one of these cases was modified 4 times, and the other sentence was modified twice. At the original sentencing hearing, the trial court orally announced a sentence that would have been 18-months longer than the sentence documented in the original written judgement. This disparity was not raised or corrected in any of the subsequent modifications.

In 2021, after McClain began transitioning towards release, the government filed a motion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 to correct the clerical error in his original sentence. While this motion was pending, McClain transitioned to home confinement, moved in with his family and secured employment. The district court subsequently granted the government’s motion, and McClain was returned to prison to serve an additional 18 months. McClain appealed.

Reviewing the case de novo, the Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered McClain released. An inconsistency between the oral pronouncement and the written sentence is generally a clerical error within the scope of Rule 36, but it is not so in this case. The subsequent modifications to McClain’s sentence can be read as being in line with the original oral pronouncement of the sentence. Errors were made by the court during those subsequent modifications, but errors by the court itself are not clerical and therefore must be addressed under Rule 35 rather than 36. Since Rule 35 contains a fourteen-day time limit, any consideration of relief under that rule is time-barred in this case.

Appeal from the Central District of Illinois
Opinion by St. Eve, joined by Easterbrook and Kanne

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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