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October 3, 2005

Major Seventh Circuit ruling on reasonableness

The Seventh Circuit today in US v. Castro-Juarez, No. 05-1195 (7th Cir. Oct. 3, 2005) (accessible here), issued a significant ruling in a case in which the defendant appealed the reasonableness of a "48-month term [which was] more than twice the high end of the guideline range, and more than three times the low end of the range that the prosecutor recommended as an appropriate sentence."  The Castro-Juarez ruling cover a lot of important ground, and here are a few highlights:

[W]e are not asked to decide here whether 48 months could be a reasonable sentence; our function is to assess whether the district court's choice of sentence is adequately explained given the record before us.  Here we must determine whether the court's articulated reasons for jumping from 21 to 48 months are sufficiently compelling on this record to satisfy us that the term imposed is reasonable....

Before Booker, we recognized that district courts were required to sentence within the guideline range except in unusual cases, and anything but a loose comparison to pre-Booker departure cases would vitiate the post-Booker discretion that sentencing courts enjoy.  All that is necessary now to sustain a sentence above the guideline range is "an adequate statement of the judge's reasons, consistent with section 3553(a), for thinking the sentence that he has selected is indeed appropriate for the particular defendant." Dean, 414 F.3d at 729.

In the end we are not persuaded that the district court met this standard. The court did recite the § 3553(a) factors at sentencing... [but] the judge did not single out any aspect except criminal history. The court was understandably troubled by Castro- Juarez's history of several times entering the United States illegally, committing crimes once in the country, being deported, and then beginning the cycle again. The judge also expressed dismay over Castro-Juarez's history of violence, especially that directed against his girlfriend.  These are significant concerns, but they overlap and, as far as we can tell on this record, are encompassed by the district court's explicit reference to the text of § 4A1.3. We understand that reference to mean that the district court was itself drawing an analogy to § 4A1.3, yet we have seen that the analogy does not fully explain the 48-month sentence.  And because that sentence is more than double the high end of the guideline range, we cannot conclude that the court's explanation is sufficiently compelling to uphold the court's exercise of discretion.

October 3, 2005 at 02:57 PM | Permalink

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