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August 27, 2009

Seventh Circuit enforces requirement that district judges address non-frivolous sentencing arguments

The Seventh Circuit today issued an important little opinion on post-Booker procedural requirements in US v. Villegas-Miranda, No. 08-2308 (7th Cir. Aug. 27, 2009) (available here). Here is a key passage from the ruling (with internal cites and quotes left out):

Even if the sentencing court stated convincing reasons for the sentence it imposed, we cannot find its silence in response to a defendant’s principal argument to be harmless error because we can never be sure of what effect it had, or could have had, on the court’s decision.  Given that there is no dispute that Villegas-Miranda’s concurrent sentences” argument was one of his two principal arguments, if it was not so weak as to not merit discussion, the sentencing court was required to respond to it.  Although the district court listened at length to Villegas-Miranda’s “concurrent sentences” argument, we cannot take on faith that it adequately considered the argument where it passed it over in silence.

This case reinforces my sense that the Seventh Circuit has been distinctly rigorous in enforcing the requirement that district courts expressly address any and all non-frivolous defense arguments for below-guideline sentences.  I am pleased to see the Seventh Circuit being tough on this requirement  — which I view as one of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court's Rita ruling — especially given my sense that lots of other circuits tend to take a "good enough for government work" approach to this issue.

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August 27, 2009 at 01:48 PM | Permalink


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The 10th Circuit being the leading proponent of the "good enough for government work" approach. I wonder if the Supremes will ever get interested in this circuit split.

Posted by: lawyer | Aug 27, 2009 3:20:05 PM

I am also interested in this issue and think it is important for circuit courts to enforce the requirement---otherwise there is nothing for the appellate court to review and it is all speculation. I think the Third Circuit has been generally good on this issue.

Posted by: another lawyer | Aug 27, 2009 3:47:43 PM

With enhanced discretion comes the responsibility for the Court to address legitimate issues from the defense and articulate an affirmative basis for sentence. Courts of Appeal have precious little authority in this post-Gall world.

Posted by: mjs | Aug 27, 2009 6:53:26 PM

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