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June 27, 2012

Eighth Circuit upholds six-month sentence increase after defendant smiled at sentencing

Though it is sometimes said that a smile is worth a thousand words, in a US district court a smile can apparently sometimes be worth an extra six months in federal prison.  This remarkable reality is demonstrated by the an Eighth Circuit panel ruling today in US v. White Twin, No. 11-3206 (8th Cir. June 27, 2012) (available here), which concludes with these two paragraphs:

White Twin claims that the district court abused its discretion by considering an improper factor – his smile.  This court reviews the substantive reasonableness of a sentence for abuse of discretion.  United States v. Feemster, 572 F.3d 455, 461 (8th Cir. 2009) (en banc).  A district court abuses its discretion when it “gives significant weight to an improper or irrelevant factor” in sentencing.  United States v. Williams, 624 F.3d 889, 896-97 (8th Cir. 2010).

The district court did not abuse its discretion by increasing White Twin’s sentence by six months after he smiled.  The court was uniquely situated to observe his demeanor, and personally charged with reviewing the § 3553(a) factors.  District courts have wide discretion in determining a fair and just sentence.  See United States v. Gant, 663 F.3d 1023, 1029-30 (8th Cir. 2011).  A district court may consider a defendant’s attitude and demeanor when exercising its sentencing discretion.  See United States v. Robinson, 662 F.3d 1028, 1033 (8th Cir. 2011).  Congress has provided that “[n]o limitation shall be placed on the information concerning the background, character, and conduct of a person convicted of an offense which a court of the United States may receive and consider for the purpose of imposing an appropriate sentence.” 18 U.S.C. § 3661.  The district court based its increase in the sentence not solely on the smile, but a combination of it and other factors.  The district court did not abuse its discretion in considering White Twin’s smile.

June 27, 2012 at 05:58 PM | Permalink


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I once asked an excellent psychologist whether there is any explanation for someone who might react to bad news with a smile. He explained that it is not necessarily unusual for someone to react like that, as it is like being in the ballpark, but in the wrong seat or section.

I don't have a clue what happened in this case, but the above explanation came to mind when I read the headline.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Jun 27, 2012 8:33:21 PM

hmm 6 months for a "SMILE" WELL i think this retard of a judge and his brothren and sisters on the sppeals court need a good old fashioned necktie party for their CRIMINAL STUPIDITY!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 27, 2012 9:13:20 PM

Seems like the judge's ego may have been bruised by his/her perception that the defendant was not sufficiently reverent. Doesn't seem like a sound basis for increasing a sentence by half a year.

Posted by: Eric Leslie | Jun 28, 2012 2:31:27 AM

while its hard to complain with the ultimate result of this guy ending up in prison for 7 years given the seriousness of the offense (he beat up his live in girlfriend and threatened to kill their children with a knife when they tried to protect their mother, so the overall sentence seems fair because this defendant simply needs to go away for a while - some may even argue it is inadequate), the way the court reached the sentence just plain stinks.

whether it stinks because the guidelines in serious domestic violence cases are inadequate (as the judge apparently thought) or it stinks because the government decided to give this lowlife wife beater a plea deal, or it stinks because the judge ignored the plea deal, or it stinks because the judge enhanced the sentence due to a perceived smile, or all of the above - that is up to the reader, but wow there is so much to dislike about this case regardless of your agenda.

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | Jun 28, 2012 9:08:19 AM

|| White Twin claims that the district court abused its discretion ||

Does he have a chance at a Racial Justice Act claim? or two?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 28, 2012 1:22:27 PM

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