March 24, 2006
Remarkable district court work on substantial assistance
In a remarkable (and long) opinion in US v Saenz, No. CR 03-4089 (N.D. Iowa Mar. 23, 2006) (available for download below), US District Judge Mark Bennett has sought to rebut concerns expressed by the Eighth Circuit about the extent of substantial assistance departures Judge Bennett has recently granted. The opinion in Saenz, which draws thoughtfully and heavily on the USSC's post-Booker data reports, is an absolute must-read for everyone working in the federal sentencing trenches (and for everyone else, as well). These opening paragraphs provide a taste of what following in the subsequent 48 pages:
With some notable exceptions, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has recently reversed and remanded several of my sentencing decisions on the ground that my downward departures in excess of 50 percent for "substantial assistance" pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) were "unreasonable" and "excessive." This case represents one such reversal and is now before me on remand for resentencing. With all due respect, I write to express my profound disagreement with the Circuit Court's rationale for this string of reversals. As a United States District Court Judge, I do recognize that I must faithfully and unflinchingly follow Circuit law, even when I disagree with it — as I do here. This is equally true whether the Circuit Court's rationale is newly-minted, as I believe it is here, or based on long-standing, rock solid precedent, as it sometimes is in other contexts. I write this opinion expressing my specific disagreement with the Circuit Court's position concerning the proper extent of substantial assistance downward departures on legal grounds as well as on the factual basis of data recently compiled by the United States Sentencing Commission to which the Circuit Court did not have access at the time that it reversed and remanded this and other cases in this string of reversals.
My major point of contention with this string of reversals is the notion expressed by the Circuit Court in some of its decisions that a 50 percent reduction for substantial assistance is "extraordinary." There is, in my view, no basis for such a benchmark in federal statutory law, federal common law, the United States Sentencing Guidelines themselves, the realities of federal sentencing, or basic concepts of fairness, mercy, and justice. Indeed, recent data compiled by the United States Sentencing Commission demonstrate that labeling a 50 percent reduction for substantial assistance "extraordinary" is at odds with the facts and so deeply troubling that the Circuit Court should reevaluate its position.
UPDATE: A reader reported trouble with the Saenz file, but helpfully noted that the Saenz opinion can now be accessed at this link.
March 24, 2006 at 01:50 AM | Permalink
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Remarkable district court work on substantial assistance:
» A Defining Opinion On Federal Criminal Sentencing from Concurring Opinions
Doug Berman has pointed out a truly engaging sentencing opinion out of the Northern District of Iowa. The case, U.S. v. Saenz, involved a downward departure from the federal sentencing guidelines for a defendant who provided “substantial assistance” to... [Read More]
Tracked on Mar 31, 2006 12:38:47 AM
Dear Justice Scalia,
We have a "DE FACTO" mandatory guidelines! Please revisit Booker.
The 6th Amendment!
Posted by: Ronald Richards | Mar 24, 2006 5:38:04 PM
Posted by: SEATON | Mar 24, 2006 8:43:49 PM
Dear Sixth Amendment,
Haven't you noticed? I wanted a de facto mandatory-Guidelines system all along. I just didn't want Congress, the Sentencing Commission, or the Executive to have as much say as the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act gave them. And I certainly don't want to have to worry about what juries do. Ordinary citizens?! You can't trust them. Just give us the conviction and we'll do the rest.
District judges are just as bad as juries -- they're why I pushed sentencing reform in the first place.
Now that I've put the federal appellate judiciary in charge of the whole sentencing system, I've almost won! Full legislative authority is next. Then, I just need to complete my plan to have the federal appellate courts take over the military, and I'll crown myself Emperor for Life! Oh, but I already got that title when the Senate confirmed me to the Court. Well, I still need to take over the military to complete our coup -- Hamdam v. Rumsfeld looks like a good place to start.
Now sit down, be quiet, and stop bothering me.
Posted by: Justice Breyer | Mar 27, 2006 5:26:59 PM
Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 10:59:23 PM