« "Legal-Marijuana Trend Spreads as More States Weigh Votes" | Main | Arizona and Texas complete executions 29 and 30 in the US in 2013 »

October 9, 2013

District Judge Graham gets in a final word on child porn sentencing despite Sixth Circuit reversals

I am about to head off line for the bulk of the day in order to head down to the Queen City in order to watch the full en banc Sixth Circuit consider crack sentencing modification rules in Blewett. (I hope late tonight to report on what I see in the argument, perhaps with a prediction as to the outcome.)

For my last word before I go to watch the Sixth Circuit in action, I am pleased to post a recent opinion by US District Judge James Graham that provides its own kind of last word about the Sixth Circuit's recent sentencing work in a child pornography downloading case that the Sixth Circuit took out of Judge Graham's hands.  The opinion in US v. Childs (which can be downloaded below) is relatively brief, and it starts and winds down this way:

This is a disturbing case. Defendant is charged with one count of possession of child pornography. I am called upon to decide whether to accept a plea agreement which requires me to impose a sentence which is roughly only one sixth of the lowest sentence recommended by the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“the Guidelines” or “U.S.S.G.”). This is disturbing not because I disagree with the sentence, but because I am convinced that under the law of the Sixth Circuit announced in United States v. Bistline, 665 F.3d 758, 761-64 (6th Cir. 2012)(“Bistline I”), I would not have been free to select such a sentence without the government’s agreement....
The Sixth Circuit's decision in Bistline I blurs the distinction between mandatory and advisory by requiring more deference to congressionally created guidelines than that accorded to Sentencing Commission-created guidelines.  Just what implications this might have under Apprendi was not discussed by the Sixth Circuit.

There have been some very important developments since the Sixth Circuit's decision in Bistline I. In its Report to Congress: Federal Child Pornography Offenses (Dec. 2012), www.ussc.gov/Legislative_ and_ Public_ Affairs/ Congressional_ Testimony_ and_ Reports/ Sex_ Offense_ Topics/ 201212_ Federal_ Child_ Pornography_ Offenses/ (visited October 1, 2013), the Sentencing Commission publicly declared that the existing guidelines for child pornography offenses were flawed and in need of repair.  In a letter to Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair of the Commission, dated March 5, 2013, Anne Gannon, National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, responded to the Commission’s report on behalf of the Department of Justice.  See Letter from Anne Gannon, Nat’l Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to Honorable Patti B. Saris, Chair, U.S. Sentencing Comm’n (Mar. 5, 2013), available at http://sentencing.typepad.com/files/doj-letter-to-ussc-on-cpreport. pdf (visited Sept. 30, 2013). The Department expressed its agreement with many of the Commission’s conclusions, noting that the report “reflects a significant amount of detailed research and thoughtful analysis" and thanking the Commission for "undertaking the important task of laying the foundation for reforming sentencing practices involving non-production child pornography offenses." Id. at 1.

Nevertheless, on June 27, 2013, four months after the Commission’s report, the Sixth Circuit filed its opinion in United States v. Bistline, 720 F.3d 631 (6th Cir. 2013)(“Bistline II”) reaffirming it's holding in Bistline I, with no mention whatsoever of the Commission’s findings or the extent of the Department of Justice's concurrence.  As a judge who has regularly sat on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by designation for more than two decades, I find this inexplicable.  Many of the Commission’s criticisms of the child pornography guidelines, including criticisms which the Justice Department concurred in, are identical to the ones I expressed in my sentencing colloquy in Mr. Bistline’s case.  The Sentencing Commission’s criticism of the crack cocaine guidelines was cited as a reason for diminished deference for those guidelines in Kimbrough, and that part of the Kimbrough decision was cited by the Sixth Circuit in Bistline I to explain why the Supreme Court decided that the crack cocaine guidelines were entitled to less deference. See Bistline I, 665 F.3d at 763. In light of the fact that, in the interim, the Commission had spoken on the child pornography guidelines, why would the court not revisit the applicability of Kimbrough when it decided Bistline II? It seems clear to me that under Kimbrough, the child pornography guidelines should be accorded less, not more, deference than others.

It is a tragic irony that sentencing judges in the Sixth Circuit are required to give enhanced deference to guidelines which the independent Commission, relied upon so heavily by the Supreme Court in upholding the Guidelines, has now declared flawed and in need of reform. It is even more tragic that offenders in this circuit will have to rely on prosecutorial discretion, not judicial discretion, in order to receive a just and fair sentence in these cases.

Download Childs Sentencing Opinion and Order

October 9, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2019affe26c6c970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference District Judge Graham gets in a final word on child porn sentencing despite Sixth Circuit reversals:

Comments

Obama: Put Judge Graham on the Sixth Circuit.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Oct 9, 2013 10:23:59 AM

I congratulate Judge Graham on his self-promotion to the Sixth Circuit. Perhaps he can have a cup of coffee with Judge Jack Weinstein, of late self-promoted to the Second Circuit.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2013 10:27:45 AM

"enhanced deference to guidelines"
-- hows-abouts just follow the law?

"It is even more tragic that offenders in this circuit will have to rely on prosecutorial discretion, not judicial discretion, in order to receive a just and fair sentence in these cases."
-- no. . . . just . . .stay . . within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
...... and you still have your share of discretion

Posted by: Adamakis | Oct 9, 2013 11:01:30 AM

Otis, at least they were confirmed by the Senate and not a hack former AUSA

Posted by: Steve Prof | Oct 9, 2013 7:42:18 PM

"... at least they were confirmed by the Senate and not a hack former AUSA."

It's quite true that all the numerous judges who wrote Blistine (both times) and US v. Reingold (unanimously reversing an insolent and intentionally lawless Jack Weinstein) were confirmed by the Senate.

Might that mean you'll be respectful of their opinions?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2013 10:00:24 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB