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August 31, 2006

Sixth Circuit affirms sizeable downward variance

Concluding a month in which it has done a lot of strong post-Booker work on reasonableness review, the Sixth Circuit today issued a thoughtful opinion in US v. Collington, No. 05-4054 (6th Cir. Aug. 31, 2006) (available here).  In the split decision in Collington, both the majority and dissent get in some good shots, though I think the majority's explanation for why a 10-year below-guideline sentence was reasonable in this case is most convincing.  Especially intriguing are these two footnotes from the majority responding to points by the dissent:

[FN2] The dissent notes that this variance is 36% below the low end of the guidelines range. Dissent Opn. at 1, 6, 11. Such analysis has no place in a review for reasonableness.  There is no mathematical percentage or formula that defines what reasonableness is.  Appellate review simply can not be reduced to such cold calculations.  It is those very calculations that Booker and its progeny attempted to remove from the federal sentencing process.

[FN3] While the dissent criticizes the district court for giving Collington "a gift," this is no reason for this Court to find Collington's sentence unreasonable.  What may be overlooked in appellate review is the fact that the district court does not issue its sentencing remarks in a vacuum or exclusively with this Court's review in mind. These comments are delivered directly to the defendant, often times with family members present.  We should not begin persecuting the district courts for any niceties they may state in communicating its sentence to the defendant. Such a practice would only lead to depersonalizing an already difficult situation.

August 31, 2006 at 10:27 AM | Permalink


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I am a legal secretary with a long history of family members involved in the legal system, my dad is currently a defense attorney and was formerly a district court judge, and I tend to agree with the Sixth Circuit’s decision that sentencing should not be reduced to cold calculations that requires the use of guidelines that should be followed in order to determine the amount of time that a defendant should spend in jail. Each individual case and person is unique in the court system and should be judged as such. I especially agree with the second opinion you listed, which states, “We should not begin persecuting the district courts for any niceties they may state in communicating its sentence to the defendant. Such a practice would only lead to depersonalizing an already difficult situation.” I think that pretty much sums up the need for the district courts to be able to use individualized standards when doling out punishments.

Posted by: Baby Gifts | Jun 1, 2007 1:27:00 AM

I agree that sentencing should never be reduced to numbers or that the sentence should be handed down in a vacuum without taking into account many other factors. Depersonalizing the situation is not going to help anyone, not the courts and certainly not the defendants. In fact, I think these issues need to reach far beyond how sentencing is handled. Each case itself should be looked at as a personalized case. I know it’s very hard to write laws that are that flexible, but many cases are not black and white. The way most state and federal laws are written, though, only black and white outcomes are allowed. This means either a defendant is either a complete innocent or is totally guilty – there is no room for errors in judgment or in cases where the defendant lacked sufficient knowledge. All cases should be individualized because, in my opinion, all cases are unique.

Posted by: Baby Gifts | Jun 14, 2007 9:54:54 PM

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