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January 29, 2008

The latest sentencing wisdom from the Sixth Circuit

An array of Sixth Circuit panels keep churning out thoughtful sentencing opinions.  The latest one comes today in US v. Vowell, No. 06-5742 (6th Cir. Jan. 29, 2008) (available here), which starts this way:

Co-Defendants/Appellants Katherine Sue Pratt (“Pratt”) and Walter Franklin Vowell (“Vowell”) appeal the sentences imposed by the district court after they pleaded guilty to coercing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of that conduct and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a) and 2252(a)(4)(B) respectively. The district court sentenced Pratt to 240 months on count one and 120 months on count two, to be served concurrently, followed by a lifetime of supervised release. It sentenced Vowell to 540 months on count one and 240 months on count two, to run consecutively, for a total of 65 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release.

Both Vowell and Pratt filed timely appeals, challenging the procedural and substantive reasonableness of their respective sentences. Pratt also claims that the district court plainly erred by failing to notify her of its intention to sentence her above the Guidelines range. Because we conclude that both sentences were reasonable, and that Pratt had adequate notice of the district court’s intention to sentence her above the Guidelines range, we AFFIRM both sentences.

As this start suggests, this fact section of this opinion is definitely for mature audiences only.

January 29, 2008 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"We find that the district court did not commit any procedural errors in arriving at this sentence, much less any significant procedural errors." That passage implicitly highlights a question that has been bothering me post-Gall, as I have seen the government heavily rely on the "significant procedural error" language found in Gall when arguing against procedural sentencing arguments.

I find it noteworthy that the adjective "significant" is not always used as a modifier in Gall to describe procedural reasonableness review. However, AUSAs (and possibly some courts?) are heavily relying on the adjective when Gall does use it.

Is anyone aware of a post-Gall opinion explaining what is a "significant" error versus just a regular "error"? Does "significant" mean prejudicial?

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 29, 2008 1:06:02 PM

Any thoughts from the group about the facts of this case and the death penalty for child rapists? I must admit that, after reading the facts of the case, I've got no problem in having these two criminals executed for their crimes.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 29, 2008 7:24:54 PM

65 years which is essentially a life sentence seems reasonable and appropriate for me to me for Mr. Vowell - that was a truly horrorific crime done for profit, so an effective life sentence seems appropriate. I disagree with Mark, I think an effective life sentence is appropriate and sufficient given those circumstances.

The 20 year sentence for Ms. Pratt is probably more problematic - I think the mandatory minimum of 15 years would have been appropriate given her psychological background and the circumstances. Still, I'm not losing any sleep over her getting more, because those are especially bad facts.

Posted by: Zack | Jan 30, 2008 10:34:14 AM

I am a relatively new district judge (6 months)in the western district of MI & have found that navigating the sentencing shoals created by the Guidelines is the steepest part of my learning curve. I recently heard about an opinion filed this month by Judge Easterbrook (7th CA) which contains some very good definitional language. Both of my clerks are working at home today because of the weather & my less-than-sterling research skills have failed me. Can anyone point me to this case? Thanks.

Posted by: Janet Neff | Jan 30, 2008 2:54:09 PM

I am a relatively new district judge (6 months)in the western district of MI & have found that navigating the sentencing shoals created by the Guidelines is the steepest part of my learning curve. I recently heard about an opinion filed this month by Judge Easterbrook (7th CA) which contains some very good definitional language. Both of my clerks are working at home today because of the weather & my less-than-sterling research skills have failed me. Can anyone point me to this case? Thanks.

Posted by: Janet Neff | Jan 30, 2008 2:59:56 PM

I am a relatively new district judge (6 months)in the western district of MI & have found that navigating the sentencing shoals created by the Guidelines is the steepest part of my learning curve. I recently heard about an opinion filed this month by Judge Easterbrook (7th CA) which contains some very good definitional language. Both of my clerks are working at home today because of the weather & my less-than-sterling research skills have failed me. Can anyone point me to this case? Thanks.

Posted by: Janet Neff | Jan 30, 2008 3:01:23 PM

I don't know about this Easterbrook case, but Judge Clay in CA6 has a good recent case interpreting the post Rita, Gall/Kimbrough landscape. You can find it at 2007 WL 4440403 (it'll be published, just doesn't have F.3d pagination yet). The case name is United States v. Bolds.

Posted by: CTA Clerk | Jan 30, 2008 3:46:13 PM

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