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July 7, 2008

First Circuit finds stat max sentence (substantively?) unreasonable

At the end of a very long opinion covering lots of different criminal justice issues, the First Circuit today in US v. Ofray-Campos, No. 05-1461 (1st Cir. July 7, 2008) (available here), reverses on defendant's above-guideline sentence as unreasonable. Here is how the panel concludes its sentencing analysis:

In sum, the district court’s description of López- Soto’s conduct, while justifying an upward variance, was not sufficiently compelling to support a statutory sentence of more than double the maximum of the applicable guidelines range.  There was ample room for a variance above the guidelines and below the statutory maximum to accomplish the trial judge’s stated purposes in sentencing López-Soto.  Although “we emphasize that we do not reject the sentence imposed below solely because of the magnitude of its deviation from the guideline-recommended range,” Zapete-Garcia, 447 F.3d at 61, the statutory maximum forty-year (480-month) sentence simply does not stem from a plausible explanation, does not constitute a defensible result, and therefore cannot survive our review for reasonableness.  See Jimenez-Beltre, 440 F.3d at 519. Accordingly, without expressing any opinion on what sentence should be imposed on remand, we vacate López-Soto’s sentence and remand for re-sentencing consistent with this opinion.

I think it is fair to say that the panel found that the stat max sentence was substantively unreasonable under the circumstances, though one might also conclude that the reversal here was (also?) for procedural unreasonableness because the district court did not sufficiently explain or justify the sentence imposed.  However characterized, this ruling shows again that reasonableness review after Gall is not an empty exercise and can sometimes benefit defendants.

July 7, 2008 at 06:59 PM | Permalink

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» CA1: jury contamination by judge from Appellate Law
US v. Ofray-Campos, et. al, Nos. 05-1461, 05-1462, 05-2315, 05-2627, 06-1005 is one of many Puerto Rican drug cases. There are a few interesting issues there, which I will get to later. These include: 1) jury notes; 2) jury contamination [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 8, 2008 6:05:13 AM

Comments

The man who received the 40 year sentence, rather than the roughly sixteen year maximum of the guideline range, was an enforcer in the gang facing parallel state murder charges.

The trial court expressly refused to consider this uncharged murder as a basis for its sentence of this defendant.

The appellate court held that a mere vague claim that someone was a violent triggerman, without linking it to a particular incident, was insufficient to support this kind of sentencing enhancement, but that a sentencing enhancement might be supported by more particularlized findings, such as a finding that the defendant committed the uncharged murder.

The implicit message is that judges who want long sentences, and prosecutors, are a strong incentive to introduce logically irrelevant evidence of uncharged conduct in order to obtain a conviction. Of course, an incentive to introduce irrelevant evidence is problematic (and also explains why the case took from August 5 to September 29 to try, despite the small number of defendants involved).

This case also illustrates that virtue of a conspiracy case for prosecutors, who have much wider lattitude to introduce evidence unrelated to the defendants' conduct than they would under narrower charges.

In an unrelated point, the case is an excellent tutorial in the Puerto Rican drug trade, to the point where it has value has historical documentation of it.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jul 7, 2008 8:35:28 PM

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