In United States v. Doyle, No. 14-12181 (May 25, 2017) (Ed Carnes, Jill Pryor, Ripple), the Court addressed whether the presumption of prejudice governing allocution errors applies where the defendant is sentenced at the low-end of the advisory guideline range. The Court held that it does.
There is a general presumption of prejudice for purposes of the third plain-error prong where a defendant is not afforded the opportunity to allocute at sentencing. In pre-Booker cases, however, the Court had carved out an exception where the defendant received a sentence at the low end of the then-mandatory guideline range. The reason: there was virtually no possibility that the defendant could have received a lower sentence.
In Doyle, the Court held that this exception to the presumption of prejudice did not apply to post-Booker advisory cases. Even if the defendant is sentenced at the low end of the guideline range, there is a still a possibility that he could receive a lower sentence by virtue of a downward variance (provided he is not sentenced at the statutory minimum). Accordingly, even though Doyle received a sentence at the low end of the guideline range, and he failed to object to the court's failure to afford him the opportunity to allocute, there was a presumption of prejudice (and the other plain-error prongs were satisfied). The Court therefore vacated the sentence, remanding for the limited purpose of allocution and for the court to consider any post-sentencing rehabilitation in its discretion.