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October 13, 2010

Notable Seventh Circuit opinion reversing (on procedural grounds) long drug courier sentence

The Seventh Circuit has a interesting sentencing opinion today in US v. Saenz, No. 09-3647 (7th Cir. Oct. 13, 2010) (available here), which gets started this way:

Cruz Saenz received a whopping 293-month sentence for transporting drug money on one single occasion. The district court seemed to think that Saenz was involved in the conspiracy beyond this single incident and denied Saenz’s request for a minor participant reduction as a result . Finding no evidence in the record of any involvement beyond the single transport of money, we remand for the district court to reconsider whether Saenz should receive the minor role adjustment.

There are many passages from the Saenz opinion that are notable, and these portion of the court's opinion struck me as especially interesting:

It may be that when the district court said that Saenz was more than a courier, it meant he was not simply a totally unknowing mule.... The fact remains, however, that the only evidence in the record regarding Saenz’s participation in this conspiracy is that he did so on only one occasion. The district court’s reasoning suggests that it concluded otherwise, and that this conclusion was the premise for its denial of the minor participant adjustment....  Because the denial was apparently premised on information not supported by the record, we remand for reconsideration....

In doing so, we note again the length of the sentence Saenz received for transporting drug money on one occasion.  That sentence, again, was 293 months in prison.  And, to repeat, the government sought a higher sentence.  If the government’s position is that 293 months is barely good enough for a one-time courier, we wonder what it thinks the appropriate sentence would be for someone who is a large-scale supplier of drugs . And with sentences like this one for single-time couriers, why not be a major supplier?  If caught, the sentence is not likely to be much more, and one can certainly make a whole lot more money in the meantime.

October 13, 2010 at 06:34 PM | Permalink


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Too bad this sort of relatively even-handed reasoning isn't applied to any number of seemingly preposterous drug and white-collar sentences.

Posted by: John K | Oct 14, 2010 10:12:44 AM

When the court starts out declaring the sentence as "whopping," I don't think you need to read the rest. It's not going to go well for the Government.

Posted by: Ala JD | Oct 14, 2010 3:13:09 PM

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