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November 8, 2005

Important DC Circuit Booker opinion on alternative sentences

The DC Circuit remains the quietest post-Booker circuit, but today that court issued an interesting and important opinion concerning the review of alternative sentences in US v. Ayers, No. 04-3143 (DC Cir. Nov. 8, 2005) (available here).  Here are a few highlights from Ayers:

Although the announcement of an identical alternative sentence might establish harmless error on a different record, in this case we are not certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the district court, when announcing its alternative sentence, understood its obligation to consider the factors in § 3553(a). The district court did not explain why its alternative sentence matched its guidelines sentence; rather, the judge said only "I see no reason to change [from the sentence under the Guidelines]." This by itself might not give rise to a reasonable doubt, but there is more. In his sentencing memorandum, Ayers requested [that the district court] order the probation office to prepare a new presentence report aimed at an indeterminate sentence and continue the scheduled sentencing hearing so that [Ayers would] have a full opportunity to present appropriate mitigating evidence, consistent with the dictates of 18 U.S.C. § 3661....

Mitigating evidence would have been relevant, of course, to the court's analysis under § 3553(a). That the district court denied this request informs our interpretation of the alternative sentence it imposed and leaves us in doubt as to whether the court considered the other sentencing factors in § 3553(a) together with the Guidelines in formulating its non-guidelines sentence.

November 8, 2005 at 01:04 PM | Permalink

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