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May 17, 2005

Fascinating circuit cases revealing unique victim perspectives

This past weekend I spotlighted in this post a number of newspaper accounts of quite interesting federal sentencing cases.  On Monday, interesting cases cropped up in the circuit courts through the Seventh Circuit's decision in US v. Beith, No. 03-2530 (7th Cir. May 16, 2005) (available here) and the Eighth Circuit's decision in US v. Rodriguez-Cebalos, No. 04-3390 (8th Cir. May 16, 2005) (available here).

Both Beith and Rodriguez-Cebalos are so factually and legally dynamic, I could readily imagine teaching a whole course around these decisions.  (There are issues in these cases which cut across all 11 chapters of my sentencing casebook.)   And though so much could be said about these decisions, I will focus on the interesting victim angles in the cases (an issue I find quite interesting, as detailed in this post with links).  Both Beith and Rodriguez-Cebalos reveal that, if victims are allowed to be involved in sentencing proceedings, they might sometimes provide evidence and arguments to mitigate, rather than aggravate, a defendant's sentence.

Beihl involves the sentencing of "the former principal of Liberty Baptist Bible Academy, who pled guilty to fleeing from Indiana to Nevada so that he could continue his illicit sexual relationship with his eleven-year-old student."  Though it does not appear the defendant's victim directly provided evidence for the sentencing, her role in the offense suggests she might have wanted to plead for leniency on the defendant's behalf.  And in Rodriguez-Cebalos, which involves sentencing for illegal re-entry, the victim in a prior offense testified at a sentencing hearing in order to explain that the defendant's prior conviction was not as serious as it seemed.

Rodriguez-Cebalos is also notable because the Eighth Circuit found Booker plain error satisfied, in part because, at an initial pre-Blakely sentencing, the sentencing court had departed downward (although on a ground later declared invalid by the Eighth Circuit).  In the course of its ruling now on Rodriguez-Cebalos, the Eighth Circuit had this amusing explanation of the need for a third sentencing:

To say the least, the Guidelines landscape under which district courts operated for nearly two decades changed drastically from the time Rodriguez-Ceballos pled guilty on December 20, 2002, to the time the Supreme Court decided Booker on January 12, 2005.  During the course of the monumental sea change occurring in the Guidelines area, the district court was tasked with sentencing Rodriguez-Ceballos.  Indeed, the district court was required to hit a moving target, and, through no real fault of its own, missed both times.  Now that Booker and Pirani have steadied the target, we believe the district court should get a third shot at sentencing Rodriguez-Ceballos, this time under the advisory Guidelines system.

May 17, 2005 at 01:38 AM | Permalink

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The Beith case's victim, G.M., is eleven years old at the time of the offense. Because the very nature of the offense considers the victim to be lacking the mental capacity, to consent to the sexual relationship, I believe the victim's emotions, toward Beith is muted, by the court, because of the correct interpretation of the law’s intention.

The victim should be permitted a voice in every case; however, the victim's voice, in this case and related juvenile cases, is spoken by the Government. A victim, whom has not reached the age of reason and is protected by the government, should not be further used, or manipulated, by defendants. The Government has a greater need to protect the interests of the minor victim. The right of the minor to directly voice their beliefs is secondary, when they might be tainted by the offense itself. Fruits of the poisonoius tree should be applied to all evidence and all parties in court, not just the prosecution. Therefore, it is irrelevant if the minor's opinion is mitigating, or not, because she is a minor unduly influenced by the offense. The facts of the case should stand alone and the age of the victim should be the aggravating evidence, not her innocence to follow someone she believes cares for her, or her consent, with the defendant, to have an improper relationship.

John Hinds
Graduate student
DHS Criminal Investigator

Posted by: John Hinds | May 17, 2005 11:30:15 AM

Prof. Berman,

I'm a law student working for Prof. King. Re. the 8th Circuit case: It's Rodriguez-Ceballos with two "L's."

Posted by: Jared Looper | May 21, 2005 1:01:22 PM

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