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October 21, 2008

Judge Merritt continues urging broader perspectives at sentencing

Earlier this year (as noted here), Sixth Circuit Judge Gilbert Merritt began lamenting "the problem of guidelineism, or 'guidelinitis,' the inability of most federal courts to break their habit of mechanically relying just on the guidelines alone."  Today, in his dissent in US v. Pruitt, No. 06-6002 (6th Cir. Oct. 21, 2008) (available here), Judge Merritt again chides his colleagues for not bringing broader perspectives to their sentencing work.  Here is the last paragraph from his Pruitt dissent:

My colleagues’ opinion is a purely formalistic, legalistic document. It advances no sentencing purpose, calls on no principle or policy of sentencing, never mentions rehabilitation, deterrence, “no greater punishment than necessary” (a version of the rule of lenity), or any other guidepost set out by Congress in 18 U.S.C. § 3553.  For two minor and remote marijuana convictions Pruitt may receive the “career criminal” designation and a disproportionate sentence comparable to the sentence he would receive if his two prior convictions were instead for rape or robbery. The defendant here is not an abstraction or a legalistic category.  He is a real-life person addicted to drugs, guilty of growing marijuana plants at his house — where he also had three firearms like the “Arms” the Supreme Court recently held “the people have the right to keep and bear” under the Second Amendment.  For this terrible crime, and his other two prior minor offenses, we are sending the case back for another sentencing hearing for the district court to make an unknowable calculation based on facts outside the record of this or any record we can judicially notice.  Even if such a calculation could be made, the Supreme Court has told us we may not go so far afield.

October 21, 2008 at 10:23 PM | Permalink


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