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September 2, 2005

An interesting Booker pair from the Eighth Circuit

Even on a quiet pre-holiday Friday, the Eighth Circuit can be counted upon for a few significant sentencing opinions.  In addition to pointing to the official summaries on the 8th Circuit's opinion page, I want to briefly spotlight US v. Engler, No. 04-4209 (8th Cir. Sept. 2, 2005) (available here) and US v. Funchess, No. 05-1064 (8th Cir. Sept. 2, 2005) (available here). 

Engler is a funny case because the Eighth Circuit ultimately rejects a Booker claim because the district court announced an identical alternative sentence, and yet it criticizes the district court for not doing a better job explaining the alternative sentence decision with this sweeping language:

To a defendant, the sentencing proceeding is perhaps one of the most important and grave life moments. It is the time that a person is faced with the prospect of confinement for many years in a federal prison, often followed by an extended period of supervised release. Given the Supreme Court's clarification of what considerations should guide sentencing decisions, we consider it a very small burden upon the district court to explain its consideration of the § 3553(a) factors and their impact on the sentence imposed. It ought not be the job of this court, nor the defendant, to attempt to divine the motivation of the district court at sentencing in the penumbra of the record.

Funchess is a case involving a similar problem, but with a different result.  In Funchess, the district court failed to explain the basis for its determination that the defendant was responsible for more than two kilograms of crack cocaine.  The Eighth Circuit "invited supplemental, postargument briefs on the issue of what evidence existed to support the two kilogram finding [but the] government was not able to cite to any evidence in the record."  Consequently, the Funchess court had to concluded "there is insufficient evidence to support the two kilogram finding."   I guess for now this is a case whether the battle over the burden of proof (details here, commentary here) may not matter.

September 2, 2005 at 04:03 PM | Permalink

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