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March 5, 2009

Opaque Eighth Circuit ruling rejects challenge to long gun-possession sentence

In most published sentencing opinions upholding sentences against a defendant's challenge, a circuit court panel often provides a detailed description of the crime and its aggravating factors.  For this reason, I often get suspicious when I see an opinion like the Eighth Circuit's ruling today in US v. Barron, No. 08-1613 (8th Cir. Mar. 5, 2009) (available here).  The only hint of the nature and circumstances of the defendant's offense of felon in possession comes from this paragraph:

Here, Barron argued in his sentencing memorandum that the district court should impose the same sentence of probation that another district court imposed in United States v. Francis, No. 03-CR-03174 (W.D. Mo. Nov. 28, 2006), because Barron’s offense conduct was similar to that of Francis. See United States v. Francis, 462 F.3d 810, 812-14 (8th Cir. 2006) (describing the relevant facts).  Barron asserted that he, like Francis, had reason to believe that the prohibition on his possession of firearms had ended, and urged that a failure to grant him the same degree of leniency accorded to Francis would cause unwarranted sentence disparity.

But, as the first paragraph of the Eighth Circuit's ruling makes clear, this defendant's sentencing appeal is unavailing:

Charles Barron pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  The district court sentenced Barron to 46 months’ imprisonment, a term within the advisory guideline range of 46 to 57 months.  Barron appeals his sentence, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by failing adequately to consider the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and by refusing to vary from the guideline range because of the “inherent inequity” of USSG § 2K2.1(a)(4)(B), which provides an increased base offense level for offenses involving large-capacity semiautomatic firearms.  We affirm.

Though it is hard to be certain, this ruling gives me the impression that a defendant has received nearly four years in federal prison for being a foolish gun collector.  Maybe my hyper-active Second Amendment radar is a bit out of whack these days, but these kinds of opaque rulings always make me a bit suspicious of what a court has left out of its opinion.

March 5, 2009 at 11:48 AM | Permalink


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Well, get thee on PACER/ECF and see if you can pull up the filings from the district court sentencing. (Or the briefs on appeal.) The PSR will be sealed, but the pleadings should be available, and should shed some light on the underlying facts...

Even better, you're a law professor---get an eager-beaver student assistant to track down this stuff for you!

Posted by: Pacer | Mar 5, 2009 12:47:14 PM

I did look on pacer, and those materials that were not sealed generally confirmed my instincts (though I did not have time to review the full sentencing transcript). Moreover, a main point of this post concerns what circuit courts select to say (and not to say) in their opinions. Rather than providing a full factual background, the panel decision here just reported the minimum necessary details to address and reject the defendant's claims. I think it is notable --- and worrisome --- that a member of the public would need to do a lot more digging to understand the true meaning and important of this published opinion.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 5, 2009 1:31:42 PM

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