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November 29, 2005

Seventh Circuit enforces mandatory life sentence in drug case

With so many interesting capital sentencing developments of late, my blogging has fallen prey recently to the "culture of death."  But a decision today from the Seventh Circuit in US v. Cannon, No. 05-1841 (7th Cir. Nov. 29, 2005) (accessible here) provides a sad and sobering reminder that injustices in the application of severe mandatory sentencing terms should have a much larger place in our national conversation about crime and punishment.

Based on the limited facts recounted in the Seventh Circuit's opinion, the defendant in Cannon seems to be a small-time, unextraordinary drug user.  Roughly a decade ago, he was twice arrested and twice pled guilty in state court to possession of a small quantity of cocaine.  Because of that past, he then faced a mandatory life sentence(!) under federal law when he was more recently arrested with 60 grams of crack. 

After his conviction at trial, the district court sought to impose a sentence of "only" 20 years because the judge believed his criminal history was not so serious as to justify life imprisonment.  But, on the government's appeal, the Seventh Circuit explained that neither the terms of the federal drug statutes nor the ruling in Booker provided authority for avoiding the strict application of a life term.  Here is Judge Easterbrook's closing paragraph for the Cannon court:

Whether this recidivist provision is wise, and whether life imprisonment is the best way to deal with repeat offenders who peddle retail rather than wholesale quantities, is open to doubt, but Booker does not permit courts to make independent decisions about the wisdom of legislation. Mandatory recidivist enhancements are compatible with the eighth amendment.  See Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63 (2003).  Accordingly, although the conviction is affirmed, Cannon's sentence is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

If time permits, I hope to do a follow-up post on Cannon and some lessons that might be drawn from it.

November 29, 2005 at 12:32 PM | Permalink


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Hello,I am a defendant who has already plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and I am awaiting sentencing. My case involved 22 fraudulent mortgage loans 18 transpired before November 01, 2001 and the other 4(1 on November 11, 2001) transactions were committed after November 01, 2001 and completed by September 15, 2002; thus straddling two Sentencing Guide line books. Obviously because of the changes in the Sentencing guidelines there was a enormous change in the levels from a 15 to a 21. Any information on arguments, cases or websites that may be of help would be appreciated. Other issue's: Anything towards lowering loss amount for sentencing(co-conspirators
culpability etc..)
Thank you for your help

Posted by: Mac | Dec 8, 2005 1:54:22 PM

I am a defendant accused of committing tax fraud and identity theft. I have never been convicted of a crime and would like to know what kind of sentence I may be facing if convicted.

Posted by: Tiffy | Apr 2, 2006 1:36:33 AM

my future husband is awaiting trial for conspiracy to possion with the entent to distubite then possion with the intent to traffic.does anyone knowwhat we should expect? if so please tellme this is newfor us.

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