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May 15, 2007

Fifth Circuit give short-shrift to reasonableness review

The Fifth Circuit on Monday affirmed a set of within-guideline sentences in US v. German, No. 06-30013 (5th Cir. May 14, 2007) (available here), and the ruling demonstrates the failure of many circuit courts to thoughtfully considering whether within-guideline sentences are truly reasonable in light of 3553(a).  Specifically, here is the complete analysis in German of the sentencing appeal of one defendant sentenced to nearly 25 years in prison for what appears to be a non-violent first drug offense:

Felicia Smith's challenge is the most compelling, but fails.  She was sentenced to 292 months, the bottom of the advisory guideline range. As she notes, her role in the offense, largely chauffeuring and buying baking soda, was significantly less than that of her co-defendants.  At sentencing, her counsel pointed out that Smith was "just a kid," without so much as a traffic ticket in her past, who refused repeated plea offers to avoid hurting the father of her three-year-old child.

The district court considered these arguments and was unmoved.  The court ruled that "the guidelines adequately take into account the seriousness of the offense for which she was found guilty, which is also one of the concerns under Section 3553(a)." The district court properly calculated Smith's guideline range, and her resulting sentence is accordingly entitled to a presumption of reasonableness.

Well, that's really convincing analysis, isn't it?.  Essentially the German court says simply that, because the guidelines were properly calculated, the within-guideline sentence is reasonable.  Hmmm.  This ugly ruling provides a strong reason for the Supreme Court to blow up the presumption of reasonableness in Rita in order to require circuit courts to take seriously their responsibility to review sentences in light of 3553(a) and not just in light of the guidelines.

(Also, it appears that Smith's guideline range was based on the old crack guidelines, which now should be considered presumptively unreasonable based on the Sentencing Commission's latest analysis.)

May 15, 2007 at 09:49 AM | Permalink

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