June 25, 2007
Judge Adelman provides thorough (and first?) lower court analysis of Rita
I am pleased to report I have just received a copy of a (first?) major lower court opinion discussing the impact of Rita on post-Booker federal sentencing realities. The opinion comes from US District Judge Lynn Adelman in US v. Santoya, No. 06-CR-82 (ED Wis. June 25, 2007) (available for download below). (Judge Adelman, of course, is responsible for many ground-breaking post-Booker decisions, including Ranum on the weight to be given to the guidelines (basics here, commentary here and here) and Smith on crack-cocaine disparities (basics here).)
Judge Adelman does his usual strong and to-the-point work in taking stock of Rita. Here is one of many significant passages from Santoya:
Thus, while Rita spoke primarily to those courts of appeals who presumed reasonable a guideline sentence, it also assured district courts that the guidelines are truly advisory. The Court affirmed the broad sentencing discretion district judges possess under Booker and stated that they may impose non-guideline sentences by departing or applying § 3553(a). Correspondingly, the Court stressed the importance of providing reasons for the sentencing decision. Although the judge may, absent non-frivolous arguments to the contrary, often say little when he imposes a guideline sentence, he must respond when "a party contests the Guidelines sentence generally under § 3553(a) — that is argues that the Guidelines reflect an unsound judgment, or, for example, that they do not generally treat certain defendant characteristics in the proper way — or argues for departure[.]" Id. at 12.
The Court thus placed nothing off-limits for district courts, not even arguments that the guideline reflects "an unsound judgment" generally, but instead placed on district courts the burden to explain why they impose the sentences they do. As I have often stressed post-Booker, while advisory guidelines mean greater discretion, they also mean greater responsibility. See, e.g., United States v. Ranum, 353 F. Supp. 2d 984, 987 (E.D. Wis. 2005).
As this passage suggests, Santoya is the first must-read after Rita. Indeed, to paraphrase a well-known quote, those who cannot learn from Santoya are doomed not to reap its many insights.
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