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April 15, 2013

Second Circuit finds Cameron Douglas's above-guideline sentence substantively reasonable

The latest (and perhaps final) significant chapter in the federal sentencing saga concerning Cameron Douglas was finished this morning when a Second Circuit panel rejected his claim that his second federal sentence was substantively unreasonableness in US v. Douglas, No. 11-5384 (2d Cir. April 15, 2013) (available here). In addition to thinking the Second Circuit panel came to the right basic outcome here, I am especially pleased that both the majority opinion and the concurrence in Douglas provide an extended discussion of sentencing practice and policy as part of the continuation of a (still nascent, but-not-yet-dormant) post-Booker common law of reasonableness review.

As I have explained in a number of prior posts (which are liked below), I have found the Cameron Douglas story of crime and punishment consistently worthy of attention — in part because the involvement of celebrities at his federal sentencings and in part because of the many legal and social issues raised by the seemingly lenient sentence Michael Douglas's drug-addicted son was given at his first sentencing and the seemingly harsh sentence he got the second time around (some backstory here).  The Second Circuit's Douglas opinion tells this story effectively (though leaving out the celebrity part), and then provide a lot of analytical meat for any and all federal sentencing fans to chew on.  I highly recommend reading the Douglas opinions in full, though I will here spotlight two notable passages from the opinions concerning the relationship between addiction and drug sentencing.

At the very end of the majority opinion (per Judge Gerard Lynch), we get these notable comments from the Second Circuit panel:

Finally, we take note of the argument, made by Douglas and supported by amici, that punitive sanctions are a less appropriate response to criminal acts by persons suffering from addiction than drug treatment. It may well be that the nation would be better served by a medical approach to treating and preventing addiction than by a criminal-justice-based “war on drugs.” See, e.g., Heather Schoenfeld, The War on Drugs, the Politics of Crime, and Mass Incarceration in the United States, 15 J. Gender Race & Just. 315 (2012); Juan R. Torruella, Déjà Vu: A Federal Judge Revisits the War on Drugs, or Life in a Balloon, 20 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 167 (2011).  But Congress has made a different choice, and this case is not a vehicle for deciding questions of comprehensive drug policy. For so long as the sale and possession of narcotics remain crimes, courts must struggle with the difficult task of sentencing those who commit such crimes.

We do not hold that district courts may not approach cases of addicted defendants who seek treatment and show promise of changing their lives with compassion and with due consideration of the relative costs and effectiveness of treatment versus long prison sentences.  Indeed, that is precisely how the district court approached Douglas’s original sentence in this case.  Sentencing courts are not required, however, to turn a blind eye to behavior that can reasonably be understood as demonstrating that a particular defendant has shown himself to be a poor candidate for treatment or for leniency.  District courts are in the best position to decide whether the defendant before the court is likely to respond to drug treatment or has spurned chances at rehabilitation and persisted in a life of “reckless, criminal, dangerous, destructive, [and] deceitful conduct.”  We therefore cannot say that the district court’s assessment of the sentence appropriate for Douglas was unreasonable.

And, at the very start of the concurring opinion by (my former boss) Judge Guido Calabresi, we get these notable comments:

I join the majority opinion in full because I agree that it is not substantively unreasonable for a district judge, after having given a defendant a number of breaks and second chances, to impose a sentence like this one. I write separately to emphasize my view that a term of imprisonment of between 5 and 10 years ought not to be seen merely as a punishment. It also must represent an expression of some faith that the convict might be rehabilitated within that time. Prisons should have a duty, therefore, not just to keep the convict locked away, but to enhance his ability to become a responsible citizen. When the convict’s crime involves drug addiction, a necessary part of this rehabilitation is enforced, medically monitored withdrawal. Congress has passed a law criminalizing possession of drugs by an inmate in federal prison, and there is no question that Douglas broke that law and manifested, as the majority opinion shows, a high level of culpability. There is also no question in my mind, however, that the incidence of this crime also demonstrates a significant level of culpability on the part of the jailing institution. When a prison cannot protect an addicted inmate from the capacity to relapse, it has failed to perform an essential obligation – an obligation that it owes both to the inmate and to the society that the inmate will someday rejoin.

Prior posts concerning Cameron Douglas's federal sentencings:

April 15, 2013 at 12:05 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Cameron better get it together and fast...Dads money and girl friend attorney cannot help him slide
thru the hurdles any more... He has to do it 100% on his own....Time to grow up and take ownership of your life....He got a soft sentence first time around...But kept on going...Its gotta smart, but in his case, he was hopelessly addicted and Dads money hurt him severely...He needs a good long time away and might get a grasp of what Reality is...

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 15, 2013 5:00:17 PM

I am curious as to how Judge Calabresi's concerns (that the prison itself is partly to blame by failing to ensure the defendant a 100% contraband-free environment, thus putting him at risk of relapse) could be addressed as a practical matter without the cure (e.g. putting all addicts in solitary and not letting them have any contact whatsoever with visitors) being worse than the problem.

Posted by: JWB | Apr 16, 2013 2:25:28 PM

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