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December 17, 2007

A sentencing two-fer from the Sixth Circuit

Confirming the reality that last week's amazing events did not change the federal sentencing world too much, the Sixth Circuit this morning affirms two sentences over defense objections.  Here are the basics from the start of each opinion:

US v. Carter, No. 07-5551 (6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2007) (available here), starts this way:

Defendant Vernon T. Carter appeals his sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment for filing false income tax returns. At the sentencing hearing, the district court denied Carter’s motion for a downward departure/variance and enhanced Carter’s sentence by two levels for obstruction of justice. Carter raises three arguments on appeal: (1) the district court erred when it denied his motion for a downward departure and/or variance based upon “exceptional family circumstances”; (2) the district court failed to consider adequately a sentence of probation and home detention based on the sentence given to Carter’s niece for similar conduct; and (3) the district court erred when it enhanced his sentence by two levels for obstruction of justice. Because the district court did not err in applying the obstruction enhancement, and because it imposed a reasonable sentence, we affirm.

US v. Smith, No. 06-6458 (6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2007) (available here), starts this way:

Carlton Victor Smith was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 405 months in prison following his participation in a scheme that was perpetrated by taking the family of a bank manager hostage and threatening to blow up the bank manager’s husband with a bomb unless the bank manager retrieved money from a bank vault. This court upheld Smith’s conviction and sentence in 2004, but the Supreme Court vacated his sentence in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). On remand, the district court sentenced him to 396 months in prison. Smith claims that his sentence is procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to address an argument that Smith made with respect to reducing his Sentencing Guidelines range, and because the district court assertedly disregarded the Sentencing Guidelines and instead relied on the statutory maximum sentences for his crimes. He also argues that his sentence is substantively unreasonable because it is longer than the sentence received by an individual who played an identical role in a related bank robbery in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Because these arguments are without merit, we affirm.

December 17, 2007 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I guess the real test will be when we see a below the guidelines sentence.

Posted by: EJ | Dec 17, 2007 10:41:19 AM

I agree the real test is will we see a district judge sentence below the guidlines on a regular basis. That will be the real test. How they sentence from this point on not the past.

Watch the Walmart case. The VP convicted of fraud who got a favorable sentence, his sentence was sent back to the district court but they were waiting for the Gall ruling both sides agreed to wait. That is a test to see if his sentence changes

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 11:05:00 AM

The whole point of Rita/Gall/Kimbrough was that district courts have more discretion in sentencing. All these recent cases from the Sixth Circuit that you (and the commentators) are wringing their hands about because the sentence is long and the district court did not buy the defense arguments are examples of courts using that discretion. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Posted by: Random Clerk | Dec 17, 2007 1:40:46 PM

Random clerk, who is wringing their hands?

Posted by: Confused | Dec 17, 2007 1:50:08 PM

RC,

There is a general pattern of hand-wringing on this blog, but I don't think it's present in this post or its comments.

As both of the commentors have noted, these Sixth Circuit cases aren't really test cases for Gall/Kimbrough. As for the original post, I don't detect any hand-wringing in the rather matter-of-fact statement that "last week's amazing events did not change the federal sentencing world too much."

You might say that simply pointing these cases out as "news" is hand wringing in some sense, but I would disagree. The Supreme Court issued 2 long-anticipated sentencing decisions, and it's natural for someone who's interested in the topic to look for the first few subsequent appellate court decisions.

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 1:52:36 PM

So lets see - Mr. Carter was making a bit over $15,000 a year, has three children and a disabled wife, and defrauded the government of a $8,400 in taxes over a three year period. Nice to see our government is really cracking down on tax cheats and throwing the book at them - at least as long as they are poor and (apparently) Black. Wonder how much the government spent prosecuting this grave crime against humanity?

Sorry, but this seems suspiciously like something which should have been a civil matter (the guy could have just received really bad advice from a cheap store front tax place and not had the means to make resitution) which was transformed into a criminal matter due to poverty.

Posted by: Zack | Dec 17, 2007 2:36:41 PM

ok, there's the hand wringing

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 2:42:11 PM

That's hand wringing over the government's decision to prosecute -- not the appellate court's review of the sentence. Try again.

Posted by: Confused | Dec 17, 2007 3:24:17 PM

I think he knows it is the government's choice but I think he means it was another bad choice and a waste of taxpayers money. I think he means once again the DOJ is out of control lead by the worst president in the history of the united states. It will cost us more to keep this person in jail for 15 months than he owed in taxes. How about that decision by the us government.

Dont you feel like the federal government just made the world a safer place?

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 3:37:18 PM

It will cost us more to keep this person in jail for 15 months than he owed in taxes. How about that decision by the us government.

It might deter other tax cheats. It'll probably keep Carter from doing the same thing again if his thought process was "they'll never prosecute me for 4 figures."

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 5:48:59 PM

That is so far off base that it might deter others. Who in the united states even knows he is going to jail for 15 months. What % of the US 1/100th of 1% and I think that estimate is high. The only people that probably know is his family ok it is a big win we stopped his family from cheating. Another big win for the Bush DOJ maybe that us attorney will be in line for a promotion.

Deter others tell me how the others even know about this?

Please I am not saying that anyone who breaks the law shouldnt go to jail. But we as a country need to be a little smarter on who we put there. Not every single person who breaks the law deserves a 15 month sentence.

The real problem is the horrible system congress put in place a system they refuse to fix because they dont want to admit mistake.

That is the issue.

Posted by: | Dec 17, 2007 7:15:27 PM

Who in the united states even knows he is going to jail for 15 months.

If you went to jail for 15 months, are you saying that only your family would ever know? I'll take your word for it, but I doubt that's the case for Mr. Carter.

I'm always amazed at how many commenters on this blog claim to be able to know, based only on an appellate court opinion or a newspaper article, exactly what happened in the office of the prosecuting attorney, and exactly what the prosecutors were thinking.

Prior posts have shown that this blog has the potential to bring together all sorts of people to talk about sentencing issues at a fairly high level. Comments like these drag it down and *should* have no place here.

(I concede that there are a few regulars who take the prosecution's side and also contribute to the downward trajectory of the discussion)

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 1:36:03 AM

I would like you to explain how this 15 month senetcne for less than 10,000 of taxes will deter others

how many people will know he went to jail?

Posted by: | Dec 18, 2007 8:56:01 AM

It bothers me that fraud guidelines are not inflation-adjusted. I mean, $8,400 today is less than it was 10 years ago, so shouldn't the sentences reflect that?

Actually, GNP-per-capita deflator indexing would likely make more sense than inflation -- if someone defrauds someone out of (say) half a year's typical earnings in 1997, or 2007, the crimes should be considered the same.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Dec 18, 2007 2:14:40 PM

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