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December 29, 2009

Seventh Circuit requires "some minimal explanation" for sentencing modification ruling

The Seventh Circuit has issued a notable little opinion today in US v. Marion, No. 09-2525 (7th Cir. Dec. 29, 2009) (available here), concerning a district court's obligations when ruling on a federal defendant's motion for a sentence reduction under 3852(c)(2). Here is the heart of the ruling:

Although ruling on a motion to reduce is not the same as imposing a sentence, we think that the reasoning behind requiring a brief statement of reasons at sentencing compels a similar requirement when deciding a motion to reduce. Some statement of the district court’s reasoning is necessary for this court to be able to meaningfully review its decision....

We think that a district court’s order on a motion for a sentence reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) should at least address briefly any significant events that may have occurred since the original sentencing. If the district court believes that nothing particularly noteworthy has changed concerning the basis for the defendant’s original sentence, some simple explanation to that effect will apprise both the defendant and this court of that fact.

Our opinion in this case should not be read to expand what is required of a district court when sentencing a defendant or considering a motion to reduce a sentence under § 3582(c)(2). We have no intention of counting words or applying some rigid formulation to statements of reasons, particularly on a motion to reduce a sentence.  The problem with the order here is not that the district court used a form order, or even that the order contained only a one-sentence explanation. The problem arises from the fact that it is impossible for us to ensure that the district court did not abuse its discretion if the order shows only that the district court exercised its discretion rather than showing how it exercised that discretion.  Some minimal explanation is required.

December 29, 2009 at 04:33 PM | Permalink

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