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April 6, 2006

Lots of fascinating federal circuit action

With the end-of-semester crunch creeping up, I have not been able to keep up with all the circuit sentencing action this week.  However, there have been interesting criminal law opinions from most of the circuit courts this week, and today brings these three especially noteworthy rulings:

From the Fourth Circuit, US v. Milam, No. 05-6259 (4th Cir. Apr. 6, 2006) (available here), addresses the important issues of what constitutes an admission for Apprendi/Blakely/Booker purposes.  Here's the Milam court's opening paragraph:

In these cases, we hold that facts stated in a presentence report may not, at sentencing, be deemed to be admissions by the defendant sufficient to bypass the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial as articulated in United States v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 738 (2005), even though the defendant, who had been given the presentence report before sentencing, did not object to the facts.  We therefore conclude that the district court violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights in each case when it relied on facts stated in the presentence report to enhance the defendant's sentence beyond the statutory minimum.  We vacate the sentences in these two appeals and remand for resentencing.

From the Ninth Circuit, In re: Vasquez-Ramirez,, No. 04-75715 (9th Cir. Apr. 6, 2006) (available here), grants mandamus to rebuff a judge for refusing to accept a guilty plea.  Here's is the court's closing explanation:

A district judge retains broad discretion to sentence a defendant to any term of imprisonment within the statutory range set by Congress, for the crime the prosecutor has chosen to pursue.  See United States v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 738, 750 (2005).  But the judge oversteps his bounds when he forces the prosecutor to pursue charges the prosecutor would rather not, just because the judge disagrees with the sentencing range to which he would otherwise be limited. Once a prosecutor brings charges against a defendant, Rule 11 requires the judge to accept the defendant's guilty plea to those charges, provided the plea meets the requirements of Rule 11(b).  It matters not that the judge feels the prosecutor's charging decision was too aggressive or too lenient.

From the Eleventh Circuit, US v. Williams, No. 04-15128 (11th Cir. Apr. 6, 2006) (available here), declares that the PROTECT Act's provision that prohibits the promotion of child pornography is facially unconstitutional for overbreath and vagueness.   Here is how that opinion begins:

Michael Williams appeals his conviction for promotion of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(3)(B) on the grounds of facial unconstitutionality.  For this reason, we reverse that conviction. Williams was also convicted of possession of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B), and he appeals his sentence for that offense on the grounds that the court unconstitutionally enhanced his sentence under a mandatory guidelines scheme in violation of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 125 S. Ct. 738 (2005).  Because there was no reversible Booker error, we affirm Williams's sentence of 60-months' imprisonment.

April 6, 2006 at 06:12 PM | Permalink


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In re: Vasquez-Ramirez reminds us who really has power over sentencing

Posted by: dan | Apr 7, 2006 1:57:29 AM

Here's another, noteworthy (or not) because it is yet another example of a defendant being convicted of one crime and sentenced for another: United States v. Johnson, 05-60695 (5th Cir. Apr. 4, 2006).

Johnson was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Because Johnson had shot at police officers with the firearm he was convicted of possessing, the cross-reference in 2K2.1(c)(1)(A) kicked in and his offense level was calculated using the attempted murder guideline. The resulting guideline range was above the 120-month statutory maximum under 924(a)(2), so the district court imposed a sentence of 120 months.

The Fifth Circuit held that the sentence was reasonable, "because where the statutory maximum is lower than a properly-calculated guidelines range, a statutory maximum sentence is functionally equivalent to a sentence within the guidelines. In Mares, we adopted a presumption of reasonableness for guidelines sentences, and we now apply the same presumption to statutory maximum sentences where that maximum falls below the appropriate guidelines range." Slip op. at 5.

Posted by: Brad | Apr 7, 2006 10:13:16 AM

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