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August 16, 2006

Second Circuit joins group mandating that crack guidelines are followed

Based on a positive report from oral argument, I was hopeful that the Second Circuit would not call per se unreasonable a district court's decision not to follow the harsh crack guidelines.  But, sadly, the Second Circuit today essentially mandated application of the crack guidelines and thus followed the ugly circuit herd on this issue (which started with the First Circuit's Pho ruling and was followed by the Fourth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits).  The ruling in US v. Castillo, No. 05-3452 (2d Cir. Aug. 16, 2006) (available here), appears thoughtful, but still is very wrong and unjust in my view.  Here is the start of an opinion I will discuss more fully later: 

This appeal calls upon us to decide whether a district court's sentence can be upheld as reasonable when it is based solely on the district court's policy disagreement with how the United States Sentencing Guidelines treat crack cocaine offenses as compared to powder cocaine offenses, notwithstanding Congress's repeated rejection of proposals to alter that treatment.

The federal statute governing drug offenses calls for mandatory minimum sentences to be imposed according to drug quantity as measured by weight, where the quantity needed to trigger each minimum varies by type of drug.  Following and building on this structure, the Sentencing Guidelines provide sentencing ranges for offenses involving powder cocaine and crack cocaine according to a ratio of 100 to 1, such that a crime that involves a certain quantity of crack cocaine falls within the same sentencing range as a crime that involves 100 times that amount of powder cocaine. In this case, without making any adjustment for the particularities of the individual defendant or his specific offenses, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Sweet, J.) found the 100:1 ratio untenable and instead simply applied the 20:1 ratio that the Sentencing Commission currently advocates but that Congress has repeatedly refused to adopt.  The government filed the instant appeal, and we are now compelled to reverse.  We hold that district courts do not have the authority to reject unilaterally the 100:1 ratio on policy grounds, and we remand for further proceedings.

August 16, 2006 at 04:59 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Prof. B,

Did the Court even read your brief? It seems to have conveniently ignored your argument in favor of its own textual spin.

Posted by: Hey | Aug 16, 2006 9:14:09 PM

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