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September 16, 2011

Eighth Circuit panel unanimously affirms Rubashkin federal convictions and lengthy prison sentence

The Eighth Circuit has handed down an opinion today in US v. Rubashkin, No. 10-2487 (8th Cir. Sept. 16, 2011) (available here), a high-profile white-collar case out of the heartland involving financial frauds at a kosher meat-packing plant.  The panel has unanimously affirmed the Sholom Rubashkin's conviction and sentence; I have followed this case closely, in part because I helped file an amicus brief complaining about what I considered to be an unreasonable of 27-year (within-guideline) federal prison sentence for the defendant's offense conduct.

Though disappointed with the ruling here, I am not especially surprised given the Eighth Circuit's history in sentencing appeals.  (That history, along with the frequency with which the Supreme Court has reviewed and reversed the Eighth Circuit's work since Booker, might well mean this case will get more appellate attention in the future).  Here is an excerpt of the Rubashkin panel's sentencing discussion:

Rubashkin argues that his 324 month sentence was substantively unreasonable given his age, nonviolence, lack of criminal history, unlikelihood of recidivism, family obligations, and the principal motives for his acts,.  We review the imposition of a sentence under "a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard."  United States v. Hayes, 518 F.3d 989, 995 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Gall, 552 U.S. at 41).  Sentences within the guideline range are presumed to be substantively reasonable.  United States v. Robinson, 516 F.3d 716, 717 (8th Cir. 2008).

Not only was Rubashkin's sentence of 324 months within the guideline range, it was at the low end of it.  Rubashkin argues that because of his past charitable acts and his family obligations he should have been granted a downward departure.  These are the very characteristics that the district court properly took into account when considering the ยง 3353(a) factors.  The court weighed Rubashkin's past charitable acts, nonviolence, and the needs of his family against his involvement in multiple fraudulent schemes and the millions of dollars in damage they caused.  The cases Rubashkin cites in favor of his unreasonableness argument illustrate instances where downward departures based on charity or family needs have been affirmed.  Nothing requires a sentencing court to depart on such grounds.  Under all the circumstances the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion in imposing a 324 month sentence.

Related posts on the Rubashkin case:

September 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Honestly I doubt this is going anywhere. I just don't see the 8th circuit or SCOTUS saying that district court judges must grant such departures. Everything SCOTUS has said, in pretty much every case, is that it is up to the discretion of the district court and I don't see this case meeting an abuse of discretion standard. Compare with Fumo which met the abuse of discretion standard on several points. As for charity, it is so easy to give away other people's money and then somehow claim you are a saint for not keeping the loot, but I don't see it as a convincing argument.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 16, 2011 2:19:08 PM

A common misconception that was (outrageously) further propagated by the district court was that Rubashkin somehow wanted to steal and keep the money from the bank.

In reality, all he did was draw out more money from a loan than he was entitled to, in order in expand his fatherr's company.

Posted by: Menachem | Sep 19, 2011 3:28:35 PM

First to Soronel. The whole fraud case case started after the mass raid and what Rubashkin tried was to get the business back on its feet. All the charity he gave was all the years before the raid when there was definitely no fraud involved. Also if Rubashkin would have gotten a far trial with not a biased judge there he might have not been convicted of any fraud.

Posted by: Solomon Keys | Sep 19, 2011 11:40:59 PM

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