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September 5, 2008

Third Circuit reasonably reviews rules for reasonableness review

The Third Circuit's decision Thursday in US v. Sevilla, No. 07-1105 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2008) (available here), explains the circuit's standards for reviewing a sentence for procedural reasonableness.  Here is how the opinion starts:

Where, as here, a convicted criminal defendant presents to the District Court a colorable argument for a lower sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), and the District Court fails to address that argument, must the defendant then object in order to preserve the argument for appeal? We conclude that, under our precedent, he need not. Accordingly, we review the District Court’s omissions in this case not for plain error, but to determine whether the Court properly exercised its discretion by giving meaningful consideration to the relevant factors.

Applying this standard, we find insufficient evidence for us to discern whether the District Court meaningfully considered two of Appellant Eduardo Sevilla’s arguments for a lower sentence. We thus vacate Sevilla’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

September 5, 2008 at 01:54 AM | Permalink


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This makes so much more sense than the ridiculous result reached by the conservative majority in the Sixth Circuit's en banc case of Vonner. Hopefully this issue will go up to the Supremes at some point. As the Third points out in the case, the circuits are pretty evenly split on this point.

Posted by: Reader | Sep 5, 2008 12:22:36 PM

I haven't read of the opinion of which you speak but these judges have certainly been sipping the Judge Sutton kool-aid. This decision is a total disaster. I swear that some judges don't have more than two pickled brain cells.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 5, 2008 3:07:30 PM

Reader. You are going to have to distinguish. Because I went and looked up Vonner and it was written by Judge Sutton. As far as I can see, the opinion at hand might as well have been written buy Sutton. It almost point for point matches his ruling in Davis.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 5, 2008 3:18:00 PM

No, this case differs from Vonner in the very significant aspect of the standard of review. Read Vonner again -- the crux of the opinion is that Sutton thinks plain-error review is the appropriate standard, requiring defendants to object again (and again, and again). This opinion rejects such a ridiculous understanding of Booker.

Sutton's view (and the CA6 conservatives') is that a defendant's complaint that the district judge inadequately explained the sentence receives plain-error review, because the D should have objected at the time and said, basically, "explain more why the sentence is so long." It remains unclear though, whether, if the D *did* object and the DJ offered two more sentences of explanation, would the D then need to object *again,* or else suffer PE review on the claim anyway? The situation is a farce. The D set out the reasons why he thinks he deserves a lower sentence in a sentencing memorandum; that should be a sufficient statement of his position to preserve his argument on appeal.

Posted by: Reader | Sep 5, 2008 6:55:34 PM

Ok. I see where you are coming from. I'm coming from a different place. I actually agree that the standard should be "plain error" or "abuse of discretion". My problem is that neither in Davis or in this case is that what's actually happening. The notion that the district judge didn't explain something enough is a load of BS and should almost never meet plain error review. After Gall, judges are given wide discretion to vary the sentence as they see fit. It is simply being pedantic to return these cases back to the DJ saying, "give us more words." Seriously, what do they need, a Charles Dicken's novel?

(1) Is the sentence substantially reasonable? Yes.
(2) Did the DJ provide *any* reasonable explanation for the sentence? Yes.


Posted by: Daniel | Sep 5, 2008 8:02:24 PM

Well, maybe Daniel, except that the Supreme Court in Rita seemed to indicate that courts ought actually to address the defendant's arguments. What's so hard about that?

Posted by: David in NY | Sep 8, 2008 3:21:49 PM

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