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June 16, 2011

Third Circuit rejects sundry challenges to lack of fast-track sentencing programs in certain districts

The Third Circuit has an interesting discussion of so-called fast-track sentencing programs today in US v. Lopez, No. 10-2518 (3d Cir. June 16, 2011) (available here).  Here is how the opinion starts:

In these consolidated appeals, Jose Lopez, Pedro Esparza-Diaz, Pedro Arrelucea-Zamudio, and Silvestre Brito-Hernandez (“Appellants”) challenge the constitutionality and reasonableness of the sentences they received after pleading guilty to illegal reentry, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b)(2).   Appellants claim that their Fifth Amendment rights were violated as a result of the Department of Justice‟s (“DOJ”) implementation of “fast-track” early disposition programs in select judicial districts.  Section 5K3.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) permits a district court to depart not more than four levels pursuant to an early disposition program authorized by the Attorney General for the particular district.  In districts where fast-track programs are in place, qualifying defendants have the option to plead guilty immediately, in exchange for the Government's filing of a motion to depart pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K3.1.  None of the districts within the Third Circuit have a fast-track program.

Although Appellants acknowledge that fast-track programs are defensible in districts with a high volume of immigration cases, such as districts along the southwest border of the United States, they challenge the reasoning behind authorizing these programs in districts with a low volume of immigration cases and in non-border districts.  Appellants maintain that fast-track programs have been approved in an arbitrary manner, creating a disparity among similarly situated defendants that violates their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection.  Additionally, Appellants challenge the reasonableness of their sentences.  We determine that the DOJ's implementation of fast-track programs is rationally related to several legitimate governmental interests and does not violate Appellants' Fifth Amendment rights.  Further, the sentences imposed were procedurally and substantively reasonable.  We will affirm the judgments of sentence entered by each District Court.

June 16, 2011 at 03:17 PM | Permalink

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