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March 26, 2007

Fourth Circuit rules that troops should not be honored too much at sentencing

Thanks to this effective article in the Baltimore Sun, I see the Fourth Circuit last week in an unpublished opinion, US v. Medina, No. 05-5165 (4th Cir. Mar. 21, 2007) (available here), declared unreasonable a district court's decision to rely heavily on military service to justify a below-guideline sentence.  Here are the basics from the Sun article:

After Jose Medina Jr. served 18 years in the Army, a federal judge in Baltimore wanted to honor his patriotism even after the war veteran committed a crime.  Medina, a federal civil employee from Aberdeen, was caught with child pornography on his work computer in 2004 and later pleaded guilty to a single charge of possessing 10 images.

At his sentencing, the judge credited Medina substantially for his military service and imposed prison time well below recommended guidelines. "I start with the understanding that vets should get a break," U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. said before sentencing Medina to one year plus a day behind bars.

Last week, an appeals court disagreed. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., sided with prosecutors in ruling that Quarles had been too lenient when the judge gave too much weight to one factor -- Medina's military record.  The judge, the panel decided, violated the principle of a "reasonable" sentencing and ordered the case back for resentencing using the recommended guidelines of about 3 1/2 to less than five years in prison. The case illustrates a still-simmering, two-year-old debate in the federal judiciary over how much discretion individual judges should have in crafting sentences.

As noted in posts below, I have long thought and argued that if prior bad behavior (in the form of criminal history) produces significant sentence increases, then prior good behavior (in the form of distinguished military service) ought sometimes serve as a proper ground for a significant sentence decrease.  Apparently the Fourth Circuit does not think troops should be honored this way, although making the Medina decision "unpublished" perhaps suggests that the court does not feel strongly about this matter.

Among the disturbing aspects of Medina is the decision to render this opinion while Claiborne and Rita are pending.  Both Claiborne and Rita raise issues pertinent to the Medina disposition.  Indeed, if Jose Medina seeks cert, I would expect SCOTUS to GVR the case after it decides Claiborne and Rita.

Some related posts on military service as a sentencing factor:

March 26, 2007 at 09:48 AM | Permalink


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I'm interested in learning what SCOTUS is doing with Rita/Claiborne cert petitions from around the country. I've filed several. The Solicitor General has responded, asking SCOTUS to hold the cases pending resolution of Rita/Claiborne. SCOTUS has denied cert in each case. Is SCOTUS holding any cases pending Rita/Claiborne for GVR? Are they denying cert only in cases arising from circuits without a presumption of reasonableness?

Posted by: FedDef | Mar 26, 2007 12:58:38 PM

I, too, have several petitions pending with the Supremes that include _Rita/Claiborne_ issues. The SG has filed the same response in all of them, agreeing to hold in abeyance. They're still pending. Of course, I'm in the Fourth (land of _Rita_), so maybe that has something to do with it.

Posted by: JDB | Mar 26, 2007 1:35:43 PM

Message to trial judges across the country - as Ari Fleisher (sp) once famously said - after Booker, watch what you say.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 26, 2007 5:19:35 PM

(Hello... I'm a rocket scientist(really); I read legal opinions instead of pure fiction.

I notice Medina gets 1 year for possessing 10 images while Berger, the high school teacher in AZ (http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2006/05/arizona_supreme.html) gets 10 years for each of 20 images.

Posted by: john sosville | Mar 26, 2007 5:52:22 PM

John, Different jurisdictions, different priorities. Arizona just wants to spend more money on prisons. C'est la vie.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 27, 2007 9:24:58 PM

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