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April 20, 2007

Tenth Circuit shows inconsequence of presumption of reasonableness

In an interesting little (unpublished) opinion, the Tenth Circuit in US v. Davila-Salvatierra, No. 06-2053 (10th Cir. Apr. 19, 2007) (available here), reveals how inconsequential the preumption of reasonableness is for post-Booker reasonableness review.  In Davila-Salvatierra, the defendant would seem to have a pretty good set of arguments for a below-guideline sentence, though the district court decided to follow the guidelines.  The Tenth Circuit, citing the pendency of Rita and Claiborne, decided not to apply its usual presumption of reasonableness.  But then it concluded that, on the facts of the case, "a bottom-of-the- Guidelines sentence provides just punishment, promotes respect for the law, affords adequate deterrence, and protects the public from future harm."

April 20, 2007 at 09:48 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Doug-- why do you state that this 10th Circuit case "proves" how inconsequential the presumption of reasonableness is? It does nothing of the sort.

First, the case begs the question of whether the district court would have gone no lower than the guidelines floor had no presumption of reasonableness existed at the time of sentencing. Given that the judge based his choice of sentence on what he deemed was “reasonable” (the appellate review standard) rather than what was sufficient but not greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of punishment (the district court's duty according to the statutory mandate), the district court's explanation shows it was fixated on avoiding reversal under a presumption of reasonableness. This judge may well have imposed a lesser sentence had the threat of reversal for an unreasonable variance not been hanging over his head.

The more important question remains whether striking down the presumption of reasonableness will have the tremendous consequence of safeguarding district court sentencing below the guidelines, as in Claiborne. If the 8th circuit had applied the very hands-off, deferential approach exemplified by the 10th Circuit's decision in Davila-Salvatierra, Claiborne's sentence would have easily been affirmed -- but the 8th circuit threw it out by declaring the guideline range presumptively reasonable instead. The 10th Circuit's opinion hardly proves that the presumption of reasonableness is inconsequential.

Posted by: alca | Apr 20, 2007 10:57:24 AM

Fair points, though I really just mean to spotlight that circuit courts are almost always going to affirm within-guideline sentences with or without the presumption. I hope you are right that getting rid of the presumption might help folks move away from a guideline-centric approach to post-Booker sentencing, but I am not especially optimistic unless SCOTUS does a lot more in Claiborne and Rita.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 20, 2007 3:38:34 PM

This case is also an example of the district court believing its job is to impose " a reasonable sentence under the circumstances," instead of what it should be imposing: a sentence that is sufficient but not greater than necessary under 3553(a).

Posted by: DEJ | Apr 20, 2007 8:51:24 PM

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