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March 25, 2006

Fuzzy fast-track logic from the Seventh Circuit

On Thursday of last week, the Seventh Circuit in Martinez-Martinez rejected a defendant's claim that a within-guideline sentence was unreasonable because a reduction was not afforded to account for disparity that might result from fast-track programs in other districts.  As I noted in this post, however, the court did not address explicitly whether a departure or variance based on fast-track disparity concerns would be unreasonable. 

On Friday, however, in an unpublished ruling in US v. Galicia-Cardenas, No. 05-3093 (7th Cir. Mar. 24, 2006) (available here), the Seventh Circuit does address the flip side of Martinez-Martinez by reversing a variance based on fast-track disparity.  Here's what the Seventh Circuit says:

In a decision issued yesterday, United States v. Martinez-Martinez, we rejected a claim that the defendant's 41-month sentence (the low end of the advisory guideline range) was unreasonable because Indiana does not have a fast-track program.  We went on to observe, "Given Congress' explicit recognition that fast-track procedures would cause discrepancies, we cannot say that a sentence is unreasonable simply because it was imposed in a district that does not employ an early disposition program."  By the same logic, we cannot say that a sentence imposed after a downward departure is by itself reasonable because a district does not have a fast-track program.  Because Martinez controls these cases, we must ... vacate the sentence Mr. Galicia-Cardenas received.  Mr. Galicia-Cardenas must be resentenced without a credit for Wisconsin's lack of a fast-track program.  Whether he deserves a sentence below the advisory guideline range based on other factors is left to the discretion of the district court.

I think the Seventh Circuit's reasonableness logic is a bit fuzzy here.  In my view, a circuit court could find it reasonable for one district judge to decide, in his discretion, not to adjust a sentence based on fast-track disparities and still also find it reasonable for another judge to decide, in his discretion, to adjust a sentence based on fast-track disparities.  After all, prosecutors clearly exercise their discretion to apply fast-track programs in varying ways.  In addition, it is clear that a district judge does not always have to depart or vary even when he possesses authority to do so and that does not necessarily make different departure/variance  decisions unreasonable.  Put another way, I do not view reasonableness as a binary concept, though this unpublished ruling concerning fast-track considerations treats it as such.

March 25, 2006 at 11:31 PM | Permalink

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