« The potential downsides of sex offender residency restrictions | Main | Brit bankers get American plea bargained justice in Enron-related sentencing »

February 22, 2008

Split Third Circuit ruling on guideline calculation errors after Booker

The Third Circuit today issued a long split-panel opinion in US v. Langford, No. 06-2774 (3d Cir. Feb. 22, 2008) (available here), which provides yet another remind of how many tough issues Booker created for appellate courts trying to make sense of reasonableness review.  Here is the basic holding in Langford as stated at the start of the majority's opinion:

Langford argues that the District Court improperly calculated his criminal history score and consequently chose an erroneous Sentencing Guidelines range as the first step in the sentencing process, and that he should therefore be resentenced. The government urges that the error is harmless because the applicable Guidelines range overlaps with the correct range.  The application of the harmless error standard to a sentence in this fact setting is an issue of first impression in our Court.  We will join our sister courts of appeals who have decided this issue and hold that the error is not harmless.  We will accordingly vacate Langford’s sentence and remand to the District Court for resentencing.

Here is the different perspective brought to bear by Judge Weis in the heart of hisdissent:

Rita, Gall, and Kimbrough show that appellate review hinges on the reasonableness of the ultimate sentence as based on the total § 3553(a) analysis, rather than on the calculation of the Guidelines range. The reasonableness of a sentence will not be vitiated by an “insignificant” error in the Guidelines calculation.  The Guidelines computation should be performed carefully, but it is designed to produce a range –- not a designated point. Consequently, the Guidelines calculation need not be as precise as an engineering drawing.

There is enough play in the system to allow for harmless error. Although a sentence may be unreasonable if a district court makes clearly erroneous factual findings when determining the Guidelines range, the doctrines of plain error or harmless error can apply to preserve the sentence imposed....  If the computations, even if erroneous, lead the district judge to consider a reasonable range of sentences that is not a marked deviation from the national estimate provided by the correct Guidelines range, they have fulfilled their proper role....

February 22, 2008 at 04:25 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e55066f79f8833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Split Third Circuit ruling on guideline calculation errors after Booker:

Comments

"The Third Circuit today issued a long split-panel opinion in US v. Langford, No. 06-2774 (3d Cir. Feb. 22, 2008) (available here), which provides yet another remind of how many tough issues Booker created for appellate courts trying to make sentence of reasonableness review."

I admit I haven't read this case, but why do you say reasonableness review? I though Gall made the standard abuse of discretion . . .

Posted by: tom millar | Feb 22, 2008 6:48:20 PM

Gall equated reasonableness review with abuse-of-discretion, but the standard set forth in Booker and applied in Gall is reasonableness.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 23, 2008 9:20:52 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB