United States v. Tyrone Mitchell (3rd Cir. December 2019)

The Federal Docket

January 15, 2020

Sentencing Guidelines – The sentencing court committed plain and reversible error when it relied on the defendant’s “bare arrest record” when determining a sentence, as the Court only cited the Defendant’s “extensive criminal history” without adequately distinguishing between adjudications, convictions, and mere arrests. 

Tyrone Mitchell was charged and convicted of drug and firearms offenses and sentenced to 1,020 months in prison. On appeal, the Court affirmed the district court’s evidentiary rulings involving hearsay and the Confrontation Clause, its jury instructions on aiding and abetting possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and its 55-year mandatory consecutive sentences under § 924(c).

However, the Court vacated Mitchell’s sentence, holding that the district court committed plain error by relying on Mitchell’s “bare arrest record to determine his sentence.” The Court noted that a sentencing court can mentioned a defendant’s record of prior arrests that did not lead to a conviction, but “it cannot rely on such a record,” noting circuit precedent that “a bare arrest record—without more—does not justify an assumption that a defendant has committed other crimes.”

The Court held that Mitchell was prejudiced by the court’s plain error, given how often and emphatically the district court discussed Mitchell’s arrests as part of his “extensive criminal history” and his having “absolutely no respect for the law at all.” At no point during sentencing did the court distinguish Mitchell’s arrests from his adjudications. Accordingly, the Court vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

On Appeal from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Opinion by Fuentes, joined by Roth and McKee

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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