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December 6, 2004

Seventh Circuit remedies ugly case of prosecutorial (in)discretion

The recently released US Sentencing Commission 15-year report (highlights here) and the recent Wall Street Journal article on inconsistent application of cooperation credit (details here) both suggest that variations in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion may produce disparities in federal sentencing outcomes.  And a decision last week from the Seventh Circuit in US v. Wilson, No. 03-2170 (7th Cir. Dec. 2, 2004), in which the court found prosecutors acted in bad faith in denying a sentence reduction to a defendant for "substantial assistance," reveals how this discretion can be badly abused.  (Hat tip to CrimProf Blog for noting the case here.) 

In recent posts, I noted a Kafkaesque quality to recent federal and state sentencing cases; but the Wilson case was precipitated by facts which might make even Franz Kafka blush.  Defendant Wilson in a previous case had been granted a two-year reduction in his sentence, but

on account of a bureaucratic bungle, the reduction was never communicated to the individuals who could effectuate it (presumably officials at the Bureau of Prisons). Thus, Wilson neither learned about nor received the benefit of the two-year reduction the district court had granted him.

In the current case, Wilson's defense attorney sought to get him the benefit of the lost two years, in addition to a reduction Wilson was promised for his substantial assistance with authorities.  But, after an elaborate series of events, prosecutors refused to make a necessary motion for the promised reduction.  However, the Seventh Circuit in Wilson ultimately held that the USA's Office in Southern Illinois acted in "bad faith" and "abused" its discretion by conditioning the reduction on concessions that had absolutely nothing to do with "substantial assistance".

December 6, 2004 at 08:47 PM | Permalink


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you rock, professor! what a great piece of information to share with all of us! now, a quick question for the ladies and gentlemen of the legal profession: if an AUSA states in a courtroom during sentencing that he is anticipating a 35k for the defendant and the judge responds that he too wishes the defendant success on that in the future...is this binding? Our son was "promised" a 35k sentence reduction for "substantial assistance". But,of course it never happened. I'm just curious...and thank you for your time.

Posted by: mary | Dec 6, 2004 9:15:07 PM

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