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November 3, 2005

Interesting HIV sentencing decision from the Fifth Circuit

Having safely arrived in Sun Devil land for this conference at Arizona State University on Friday, a great hotel connection has allowed me to find an interesting sentencing decision from the Fifth Circuit today.  Here is the opening paragraph of US v. Castillo, No. 03-20955 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2005) (available here):

The United States, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant in this matter, appeals the district court's decision to depart downwardly from the sentencing range established by the UNITED STATES SENTENCING GUIDELINES on the grounds that: (1) the defendant's HIV-positive status constituted an extraordinary medical condition warranting a downward departure under U.S.S.G. § 5H1.4; and (2) comments made by the prosecutor at sentencing about the defendant's HIV-positive status were malicious and endangered the defendant's safety, thereby justifying a departure under § 5K2.0. For the following reasons, we find that the district court abused its discretion when it departed downwardly on these bases, VACATE the district court's sentence, and REMAND this case for resentencing.

Castillo is a very interesting ruling on both the facts and the law.  Here are some additional passages from the opinion:

[F]ollowing the logic of [our prior precedents], and our sister circuits, we conclude that a defendant's HIV-positive status alone does not constitute an extraordinary medical condition warranting a downward departure under § 5H1.4, and we find that the district court's departure on this basis, which did not advance the goals of § 3553(a)(2), constituted an abuse of discretion....

[B]ased on our review of the record, the district court's finding that the prosecutor acted deliberately and maliciously [when mentioning the defendant's HIV status] leaves us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been committed and is, therefore, clearly erroneous.  Because the factual findings supporting the district court's downward departure under § 5K2.0 are clearly erroneous, the district court abused its discretion by downwardly departing under § 5K2.0.

November 3, 2005 at 07:02 PM | Permalink

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