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September 25, 2006

Eighth Circuit at it again

You would think I would get used to the Eighth Circuit's regular practice of reversing nearly every below-guideline sentence it reviews, but repeated rulings like the one today in US v. Beal, No. 05-4483 (8th Cir. Sept. 25, 2006) (available here) still get under my skin.  In Beal, the district judge thoughtfully decided that a seven-year sentence was sufficient for a two-bit drug dealer.  But, in a ruling that essential says that the sentence was not close enough to the (severe) guideline range, the Eighth Circuit declares this decision unreasonable.

Beal is yet another stark of example of what I have called the central flaw infecting reasonableness review after Booker: the Eighth Circuit panel in Beal frames and judges reasonableness in reference to the guidelines, when Booker demands that it frame and judge reasonableness in reference to all the provisions of 3553(a).  What makes Beal particularly disappointing is that the calculated guideline range is based on a severe application of the guidelines' career-offender enhancement to a low-level drug offender.  The Sentencing Commission has itself expressly stated in various reports that this sort of application of the career-offender enhancement undermines the sentencing goals set forth by Congress in § 3553(a)(2).  Thus, in Beal, both the district judge and the Sentencing Commission recognized that the guidelines do not produce a just and effective sentencing outcome in this sort of case, but the Eighth Circuit panel apparently knows better.

September 25, 2006 at 11:52 AM | Permalink

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