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May 9, 2006

Eighth Circuit reverses another large downward variance

The Eighth Circuit through its decision in US v. Bryant, No. 05-2243 (8th Cir. May 9, 2006) (available here), continues to set the pace for reversing post-Booker below-guideline sentences.  Here are some abridged highlights from Bryant, which I believe is the fifteenth(!) post-Booker below-guideline sentence reversed by the Eighth Circuit:

The thirty month sentence imposed in this case represents a fifty-seven percent downward variance from the bottom of Bryant's advisory guideline range.  We are mindful that the appropriate degree of sentencing reduction cannot be calculated with mathematical precision, and there is a range of reasonableness available to the district court in any given case.  Nevertheless, the record in this case does not support such a drastic reduction from the guideline range....

The district court, in sentencing Bryant, offered only a brief reference to Bryant's "previous good record" and the fact that he had remained drug-free for nine months.  While we do not require a rote recitation of each § 3553(a) factor, the court should explain both the decision to vary and the extent of the variance.  The district court presumably intended Bryant's drug rehabilitation and limited criminal history to be relevant to "the history and characteristics of the defendant." 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1).  In light of the other Section 3553(a) factors, however, such as the nature and circumstances of the offense, the need of the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense and to provide just punishment, the applicable guideline range, and the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities, the history and characteristics of Bryant do not justify a thirty-month sentence in this case....

"[W]ithin the framework of an advisory guideline scheme designed to reduce unwarranted sentence disparities among similar defendants," Saenz, 428 F.3d at 1162, it is unreasonable for such a large variance to be made based simply on Bryant's limited criminal history and nine months of drug-free living.  Although these factors might well be sufficient to justify some variance from the presumptively reasonable guideline range, they do not justify a fifty-seven percent variance from the presumptively reasonable guideline range.  The sentencing guidelines are indeed no longer mandatory, but they continue to be guideposts that must be respected, lest we see a return to the unwarranted sentencing disparities that resulted in the adoption of the guidelines themselves.

May 9, 2006 at 05:45 PM | Permalink

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» Eighth Circuit Rejects Downward Sentencing Deviation Based on Participation in Drug Treatment from Drug Law Blog
The fact that a former cocaine dealer had cleaned up his act and had been drug free for nine months while participating in a treatment program was *not* reasonable grounds for a 57% downward deviation from his guideline sentence, the [Read More]

Tracked on May 10, 2006 11:12:13 AM

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