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December 8, 2005

Tenth Circuit addresses Booker and fast-track issues

Late yesterday, the Tenth Circuit issued an important opinion addressing disparities created by fast-track program in US v. Morales-Chaires , No. 05-1190 (10th Cir. Dec. 7, 2005) (available here).  The issue arose after the defendant, sentenced post-Booker, was given a guideline sentence and then argued on appeal simply that "the court erred in sentencing him to a longer sentence than he would have received had he been prosecuted in a fast-track jurisdiction."  After a long and thoughtful discussion, the court in Morales-Chaires came to this nuanced (and unsatisfying?) conclusion:

We conclude that, in this particular case, we need not resolve whether sentencing disparities caused by the existence of fast-track programs in some jurisdictions are or are not, or may be in certain circumstances, considered unwarranted under § 3553(a)(6).  Section 3553(a)(6)'s directive to sentencing courts to avoid "unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendant with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct" is but one of several factors for a court to consider in determining a reasonable sentence.  As indicated, the court in this case carefully reviewed all the factors listed in § 3553(a), including § 3553(a)(6), and concluded that they fully supported the sentence imposed.  Even one of the courts which recognized that sentencing disparities caused by fast-track programs could justify a lower sentence concluded that the other factors in § 3553(a) may preclude such a result: "I would have imposed a below-guideline sentence based in part on fast-track disparity if the other § 3553(a) factors had not weighed against such a sentence." Peralta-Espinoza, 383 F. Supp. 2d at 1112; cf. Medrano-Duran, 386 F. Supp. 2d at 948-49 (court reduced defendant's advisory Guideline range by three levels, in part because of unwarranted disparity caused by fast track programs but also because other factors —defendant's "youth, the fact that he had no prior illegal re-entry offenses, and the fact that he committed no other crimes following his return to this country" — suggested leniency).  We therefore conclude that Morales-Chaires seventy-seven month sentence is reasonable.

December 8, 2005 at 02:29 PM | Permalink


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I was the trial and appellate lawyer on the case.

You are right that the opinion was in some sense unsatisfying. However, this panel was (from a defense perspective) awful, and my client's facts pretty bad as well. So, I cling to a reed of hope that this panel chose not to kill "fast track," but to duck the issue.

BTW, thanks for the great blog and your prodigious work...

Posted by: Ed Harris | Dec 8, 2005 9:26:59 PM

Ed, thanks for the back-story. I had thesame basic reaction, and the outcome certainly should embolden district judges in the 10th circuit(and elsewhere) to consider fast-track disparity in appropriate cases.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 9, 2005 6:44:31 AM

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