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March 16, 2007

A dodgy Booker dodge by the DC Circuit

Dodging responsibility seems to be an art form in Washington DC, so I suppose I should not be surprised to see the DC Circuit today dodge their post-Booker responsibilities in a troubling little opinion in US v. Ventura, 05-3045 (DC Cir. Mar. 16, 2007) (available here).  Here's the court's summary of its per curiam work:

Defendant appeals his sentence for a conviction under federal immigration laws.  He pled guilty and was sentenced to 93 months incarceration.  At the time he was sentenced, the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), was less than two months old.  The district court interpreted that case as permitting it to enter a sentence without making a specific finding of the appropriate range under the federal sentencing guidelines.  On appeal, defendant advances a number of arguments, including the district court's failure to calculate the applicable guidelines range. In light of Booker's changes to the sentencing regime, we conclude that the district court may have erred, but the ambiguity in the record prevents accurate review.  Accordingly, we vacate Ventura's sentence and remand for resentencing.

If this summary does not seem vacuous enough, the rest of the opinion will surely drive the district court a bit crazy.  As explained in the opinion, the district judge in Ventura seemed to make an very reasonable decision to consider, but not blindly obsess over, a technical and opaque legal issue in the application of the immigration guidelines in order to instead focus on the factual realities of the case and defendant being sentenced.  The DC Circuit, suggesting inaccurately that Booker requires a guideline range to be precisely calculated and not just considered, intimates that the district court committed error, but refuses to say so.  Instead, they remand "for resentencing on full consideration of all relevant factors."

By my lights, the district court in Ventura traveled the right post-Booker highway by considering, but not obsessing over, a technical and oblique guideline diktat.  But the DC Circuit in Ventura responds by refusing to exercise its post-Booker responsibility of directly deciding whether the district court's sentencing decision-making and decision was reasonable in light of 3553(a).  instead, the Ventura decision dodges all the hard issues and instead reinforces the (disturbingly persistent) circuit court message that, even after Booker, mindless obedience to the authority of the guidelines is more important than just and sensible case-specific sentencing decision-making.

March 16, 2007 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

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