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February 21, 2006

Fascinating Sixth Circuit ruling on meth guidelines

Although not quite as exciting as the Blakely case cert grant (basics here), the Sixth Circuit today provides a great read in US v. Martin, No. 04-6428 (6th Cir. Feb. 21, 2006) (available here).  In Martin, the Sxth Circuit in a long and thoughtful opinion rejects a set of statutory and constitutional challenges to the way the US Sentencing Commission "established ratios to estimate the amount of methamphetamine that can reasonably be manufactured from certain precursor chemicals."  Throughthe challenge to the USSC's drug conversion ratio in the guidelines fails in Martin, I think we ough to see more defendants make such broad-side attacks on the construction and application of particular provisions of the guideliens (especially given the poor way, as discussed here and here, the USSC is so far dealing with post-Booker realities).

Also of interest in Martin is a discussion of whether offenses are "related" in the guidelines, which prompts Judge Martin to add a colorful concurrence that further secures his place in the Sentencing Judges Hall of Fame.  Of course, though I love the Austin Powers footnote in the Martin concurrent, whay really made me say "Yeah, baby!" was this passage:

Section 3553(a) instructs district courts to impose "a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes" set forth in section 3553(a).  Now, although the calculation of Martin's criminal history score under the Guidelines was seven and led to a sentencing range of 168 to 210 months imprisonment, the district court is not bound to adhere to the Guideline range.  A district court's explicit textual responsibility is to impose "a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary to comply with the purposes" set forth in section 3553(a). See also United States v. Foreman, 2006 WL 287365, *5 (6th Cir. 2006). 

Appellate courts then review sentences for reasonableness — reasonableness in light of the factors set forth in section 3553(a), but also in light of whether the district court complied with its own textual responsibility to impose "a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary to comply" with these purposes.

February 21, 2006 at 01:52 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I have a small background in law, but am unfamiliar with the court ruling that you point out here which discusses "established ratios to estimate the amount of methamphetamine that can reasonably be manufactured from certain precursor chemicals." I was unaware that such a guideline had been established, and I am left wondering what a reasonable amount of methamphetamine would be. I mean, isn’t any amount of the unlawful drug methamphetamine unreasonable? I think that I am by far too confused about this and it’s probably because I am either missing something important or because I have just spaced out on the legal speak. I do, however, understand the idea of sentencing guidelines and agree that even when the guidelines state that a certain period of time is recommended, it is ultimately up to the district courts to decide what sentences need to be enforced.

Posted by: Baby Gifts | Jun 1, 2007 2:44:23 AM

Ah, first I have to say I’m quite disappointed the link to the “Austin Powers footnote” no longer works – I actually pulled up the full case and searched through it to find the reference. I think this is the first time I’ve ever willingly read a court document before! I have to say that Judge Martin certainly deserves a spot in the Sentencing Judges Hall of Fame for his comments. He is certainly a very sharp judge and has a great sense of humor, something I think all judges should have. I agree and add my cheers to his statement that courts are to set penalties and punishments as they see fit the crime, not simply follow the guidelines as dictated because, obviously, the guidelines aren’t going to be able to account for every situation. Sometimes, there really are extraordinary circumstances surrounding a crime, and those circumstances should be taken into consideration.

Posted by: Baby Gifts | Jun 14, 2007 10:06:45 PM

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