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March 31, 2006

Ho-hum: another below-guideline sentence reversed by the Eighth Circuit

As documented in this list (which I hope to update soon), the Eighth Circuit is leading the way with reversals of post-Booker below-guideline sentences.  Holding to form, the court today in US v. Goody, No. 05-2483 (8th Cir. Mar. 31, 2006) (available here), reversed a below-guideline sentence in a case where the district judge apparently thought he should try to achieve a form of parity between co-defendants.  Here is a portion of the circuit court's opinion:

Here, the district court sentenced Mr. Goody to a term of imprisonment that was far outside the range that the sentencing guidelines recommended.  We see nothing extraordinary or exceptional about Mr. Goody's situation. While he did accept responsibility for his conduct and provide information to law enforcement, he did not take part in controlled purchases, contribute to the investigation of other drug offenders, or assist the government in any way that endangered himself or his family. Given these circumstances, we think that the sentence is presumptively unreasonable.

In fashioning an appropriate sentence, a district court is allowed to consider "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct." 18 U.S.C. ยง 3553(a)(6).  The district court found that Mr. Goody's involvement in the conspiracy was roughly equivalent to that of another member of the conspiracy, Raymond Gordon, who received a 72-month sentence, and the court used this finding to justify giving Mr. Goody the same sentence.  We discern a number of relevant differences between Mr. Gordon's and Mr. Goody's circumstances.....  Given the disparities in the quantity of drugs that each man was charged with, their relative levels of cooperation and acceptance of responsibility, and their varying contributions to the conspiracy, it was error for the district court to find that Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goody's circumstances were so similar that the interests of justice required them to receive identical sentences.

We decline Mr. Goody's invitation to consider statistics that indicate that the national average sentence for drug trafficking is 80 months.  That figure was computed by using sentences for trafficking in all illicit drugs, and from the data that Mr. Goody presents, we are unable to conclude that his sentence exceeds that typically given for trafficking in methamphetamine.

March 31, 2006 at 02:50 PM | Permalink

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