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January 13, 2010

Fourth Circuit finds probationary sentence for tax evader procedurally and substantively unreasonable

The Fourth Circuit has a thoughtful and interesting discussion of a host of post-Booker sentencing issues today in US v. Engle, No. 08-4497 (4th CIr. Jan. 13, 2010) (available here).  Every hard-core federal sentencing fan will want to read the whole Engle opinion, and here is how the it starts and ends:

Frederick Engle pleaded guilty to tax evasion, see 26 U.S.C.A. § 7201 (West 2002), and the district court sentenced him to four years’ probation, conditioned on the service of eighteen months’ home detention with work release and international travel privileges.  The government appeals, challenging the reasonableness of the sentence.  For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing....

To summarize, we conclude that the district court committed significant procedural error by minimizing of the seriousness of Engle’s conduct, failing to consider the relevant policy statements and the need for general deterrence, and insufficiently explaining the reasons for its view that a term of imprisonment was not required.  We also conclude that the sentence imposed was substantively unreasonable because of the district court’s improper focus on Engle’s financial ability to pay restitution.  Accordingly, we hereby vacate Engle’s sentence and remand for further proceedings before a different district court judge.

January 13, 2010 at 05:28 PM | Permalink


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Idiosyncratic justice is back in a big, big way. How does a judge risk promoting bad public policy 101-granting lenience to the tax evader with the financial ability to satisfy a large restitution award to the IRS--and then not make full restitution part of his order.

The defendant was in no way sympathetic--in the four years between arrest and final sentencing-he paid only a few hundred dollars of the over $600,000 owed in back taxes.

Even a weakened appellate court jumped at the chance to vacate this turkey.

No wonder this jurist is no longer taking criminal work.

Posted by: mjs | Jan 13, 2010 9:34:41 PM

How can you call it "idiosyncratic justice"? The sentence was reversed. The system, and not just this case, is showing that when judges fail to articulate adequate and appropriate reasoning for their sentencing decisions, they are getting reversed. There's nothing idosycratic about it.

Posted by: DEJ | Jan 15, 2010 11:51:34 AM

maybe not! BUT it sure sounds illegal.

especial if it's done via a contract between the defendant-judge-DA....kind of hard and very ILLEGAL to go back and change it unaliterally

UNLESS maybe in a case where you could so some kind of criminal conspiracy between the 3 parts to put the fix in as it were.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Jan 18, 2010 12:05:37 AM

DEJ: Certainly you know that the Government appeals only a small percentage of cases they think have been wrongly decided.

For those cases, idiosyncratic justice is alive and well.

Posted by: mjs | Jan 18, 2010 4:32:00 PM

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