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April 11, 2008

Sixth Circuit splits on the substantive unreasonableness of probation sentence in fraud case

Today in US v. Hunt, No. 06-6300 (6th Cir. April 11, 2008) (available here), a panel of the Sixth Circuit splits over the substantive reasonableness of a probation sentence in a fraud case.  Here is one notable passage from the majority (with cites omitted):

The district court appears to have relied in substantial part on its doubt that Hunt intended to commit fraud. If the district court did so rely, then it is necessary for us to remand under the abuse-of-discretion scope of review. This is because it would be improper for the judge in sentencing to rely on facts directly inconsistent with those found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  Indeed, we have stated repeatedly, albeit outside the sentencing context, that a district court abuses its discretion when it relies on clearly erroneous facts.  And a factual determination is necessarily clearly erroneous where a jury has previously found to the contrary beyond a reasonable doubt. Nothing in § 3553(a) suggests that Congress intended that sentencing judges should rely on a defendant’s innocence when the defendant has already been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, it does not matter that the district court relied on a number, even a large number, of relevant facts in its sentencing, if it also relied on facts that it could not properly consider.  Thus we would not hesitate to reverse a sentence if a judge relied on numerous relevant facts but also relied, for instance, on the morning’s horoscope.

Here is one notable passage from the dissent:

The majority holds that it was substantively unreasonable for the district court to rely on an impermissible factor in determining Hunt’s sentence.  The impermissible factor the majority hangs its hat on is what it has termed Hunt’s “innocence.”  This is the majority’s mis-labeling of the fact that the district court found Hunt to be less culpable than other defendants involved in the fraudulent scheme and that the evidence against him was objectively weaker than that against other defendants.  The district court did not rely on his “innocence;” Hunt was found guilty by a jury and that conviction will stay with him for the rest of his life. Instead, after a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the § 3553(a) factors, the district court found Hunt less culpable and sentenced him accordingly.  That is not impermissible, and tellingly, the majority is unable to point to a single sentencing case in support of its holding.

April 11, 2008 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Ass. FPD here--in addition to the dissent's reasoning a well recognized mitigating fact, at least in death penalty cases is the concept of "residual doubt"; the guidlines recognize departures for forms of imperfect defenses and, I hope, there is still room for sentencing mitigation based on the judge's feeling that a prosecutorial abuse has occurred.

Posted by: Scott Tilsen | Apr 11, 2008 5:41:35 PM

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