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October 27, 2006

Eighth Circuit reverses yet another below-guideline sentence

As regular readers know, there are no safe below-guideline sentences once they come before the Eighth Circuit.  And today, in US v. Maloney, No. 05-3423 (8th Cir. Oct. 27, 2006) (available here), another one bites the dust.

To its credit, Maloney provides a much more thoughtful discussion of post-Booker sentencing and appellate review than many other Eighth Circuit reversals of district court judgments.  But Maloney still reflects a troublesome commitment to rigid guideline-centric notions of uniformity trumping other sentencing values, as evidenced by this passage:

The district court thought that despite the magnitude of the variance, a term of 15 years' incarceration was sufficient to afford adequate deterrence, to provide just punishment, and to promote respect for the law.  Accepting those propositions for the sake of argument, we believe the district court's analysis nonetheless gave insufficient weight to the statutory objective of avoiding unwarranted sentence disparities.

October 27, 2006 at 12:39 PM | Permalink


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It sounds like "warranted" sentencing disparity is a one way street in the Eighth Circuit. Is it just me or does this analysis appear somewhat circular or facilitating a self-fulling end. In other words, if the Guidelines are truly advisory (regardless of any presumptions that may exist is some Circuits), how can a disparity analysis be premised upon a baseline of "heartland" sentences for particular offenses when that heartland is now founded upon unconstitutional Guidelines. I realize it isn't as egregious as I make it sound, because presumably a heartland sentence exists for most crimes in the abstract even though opinions vary widely (absent any Guidelines, such as pre-SRA), but it seems strange nonetheless.

All in all, it sure seems as though there are a great deal of Circuit forces pulling the sentencing landscape back to an effectively mandatory Guideline system, despite SCOTUS's mandate otherwise, namely: (1) presumptions of reasonableness in appellate review (implicitly approaching per se in some Circuits), (2) disparity analyses based on heartland sentences under the now quasi-defunct Guidelines, and (3) alleged frivolity of appeals when sentences are "inside the outer bounds" of discretion with the Guidelines as the deferential reference point (see Bullion, 7th Cir. 2006).

What to think about all of this? Perhaps SCOTUS should be looking to define the boundaries of future sentencing jurisprudence because they are at the moment focusing focusing solely on the past (i.e., retroactivity in Burton).

Posted by: Shawn Davisson | Oct 27, 2006 1:15:22 PM

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