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August 20, 2006

Sad proof of post-Booker judicial intimidation

I have repeatedly lamented the ugly pattern of reasonableness review in the circuit courts because I fear these patterns could make district judges afraid to sentence outside the guidelines after Booker.  Thanks to a helpful reader, I now have a concrete example of a fine district judge explaining that he feels that, based on Fourth Circuit precedents, Booker does not provide any additional sentencing discretion.

In US v. Hartley, No. 2:06-00017 (S.D. W. Va. Aug. 10, 2006), Judge Joseph Goodwin sentenced a defendant who pled guilty to cultivating marijuana.  The sentencing transcript, which can be downloaded below, documents the unusual nature of the offense and the defendant.  But, as highlighted by this excerpt, it also documents the judge's sad perspective on post-Booker realities:

It is the rigidity of the guidelines and the restriction on District Courts' discretion which compels me to sentence you ... within the guidelines....  I do not believe that I have discretion to act in a fashion which I find to be reasonable.  Rather, I am constrained by the appellate courts to act in a fashion that they think is reasonable with no consideration, or virtually no consideration given to the judgment of the trial court judges....

[W]hen I read Booker, I hearkened back to the time when I read Koon and I actually thought that maybe the time had come when once again judges got to look at the individual and, as your lawyer very eloquently said, tailor the sentence [to] make the punishment fit the crime and the punishment fit the individual.  [But] that wasn't true after Koon.  It took the appeal court just a few months to change it.  It's not true after Apprendi, Blakely, and Booker.  It took them just a few months to change it.

Download judge_goodwin_sentencing_transcript.pdf

August 20, 2006 at 08:21 AM | Permalink

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