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October 30, 2006

Understanding the circuits' anti-defendant inclinations

Based on my tracking of reasonableness review outcomes after Booker, it is hard not to sense an anti-defendant inclination in the pattern of pro-prosecution outcomes.  Though I am troubled by such tilt, cases like US v. Jackson, No. 06-5258 (6th Cir. Oct. 30, 2006) (available here), spotlight why there can often been an anti-defendant atmosphere in the circuit courts.

In Jackson, the defendant apparently got a lot of breaks in a plea deal with the prosecutor and also successfully convinced the district court to impose a below-guideline sentence.  Still unhappy, the defendant appealed the reasonableness of his sentence, apparently without any evidence to support his assertion that his sentence was unreasonable.  After reviewing Sixth Circuit law, the Jackson court has this to say:

It appears that Jackson is simply unhappy with his sentence, despite the fact that it is lower than the statutory maximum (120 months) and the applicable Guidelines range (84-105 months). The fact that the district court did not give the defendant the exact sentence he sought is not a cognizable basis to appeal, particularly where the district court followed the mandate of section 3553(a) in all relevant respects.  Because the district court adequately considered the factors set forth in section 3553(a), we hold that his sentence was reasonable.

October 30, 2006 at 10:12 AM | Permalink

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Comments

While I am not familiar with the particulars in the Jackson case, as a public defender in the Sixth Circuit I can say that the current state of the law on counsel's duty to appeal when combined with the "reasonableness" review standard from Booker make it very difficult to either not appeal a sentencing result or file an Anders brief.

Posted by: Sumter Camp | Oct 30, 2006 11:02:03 AM

Isn't there a danger in appealing a below-guidelines sentence? I have seen cases in California (admittedly a different system) where the defendant appealed and the Court of Appeal decided that the trial court had made an error in his favor, which they corrected.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 30, 2006 5:27:59 PM

There is always an anti-defendant bias, becaues all of the judges in all appellate courts with jurisdiction over criminal matters see their job as to keep people sentenced to prison IN prison unless there is absolutely, positively no legal way to do so. You have to back an appellate court into a corner with absolutely no way out in order to get a criminal defendant's conviction overturned (or even just to get a new trial). An appellate court will overturn its own caselaw if it has to in order to not have to let someone go free. Only if there is a supreme court (or some other higher court) case EXACTLY on point which unquestionably, INDESTINGUISHABLY, absolutely requires a reversal (which is quite rare as the trial court would not have rules in contravention of such a clear decree in the first place) will a criminal defendant get his conviction overturned in a court of appeals. It's never abuse of discretion to rule against the defendant; it is quite often abuse of discretion to rule against the state if an acquittal resulted at trial. Appellate courts across the nation use tortured logic and strained credulity to come up with arguments, distinguish prior holdings, invent new rules of law, procedure and practice, all to keep people sentenced to prison IN prison. They see that as their job. And to be sure, the average voter does, too. I realize many judges (and all federal ones) are appointed, not elected, but the people who appoint them are always elected.

Posted by: bruce | Oct 30, 2006 9:27:22 PM

"indistinguishably"... oops.

Posted by: bruce | Oct 30, 2006 9:28:13 PM

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