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March 5, 2007

Second Circuit reverses above-guideline sentence as unreasonable

Today in US v. Sindima, No. 06-2245 (2d Cir. Mar. 1, 2007) (available here), the Second Circuit reverses an above-guideline sentence as unreasonable.   Here is the start of a long and thoughtful opinion:

Following a guilty plea on federal mail fraud charges, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (Richard J. Arcara, Chief Judge) imposed upon the defendant, Felix Sindima, a sentence under the United States Sentencing Guidelines of, principally, three years' probation.  The terms of probation included a prohibition against Sindima's commission of any further crime. Thereafter, while still on probation, Sindima was charged with two violations of that prohibition.  The district court found Sindima guilty of both.  On April 13, 2006, the court imposed a sentence of thirty-six months' imprisonment, twenty-six months above the high end of the advisory Guidelines range. Sindima appeals, asserting that the sentence is substantively unreasonable.

We conclude that under the circumstances presented, the district court's statement of reasons for the length of the sentence are inadequate to assure us that they are "sufficiently compelling [and] present to the degree necessary to support the sentence imposed."  United States v. Rattoballi, 452 F.3d 127, 137 (2d Cir. 2006).  Accordingly, we remand.

March 5, 2007 at 05:27 PM | Permalink


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In a 16-page opinion, the CA2 spends 11.5 pages summarizing the facts and legal standard, and finally gets to work at p. 12.

The analysis starts at p. 12, line 7, ends at p. 15, line 7, and does not strike me as particularly "thoughtful." The panel seems to say only that it found the district court's opinion insufficiently reasoned/detailed to support a sentence that varied as much as it did from the recommended range. Good for the CA2 for not being a rubber stamp, but I don't see that the opinion contributes much beyond that.

Posted by: | Mar 5, 2007 5:38:46 PM

In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the post-Booker reasonableness review of sentences by circuit courts, any substantive analysis is "thoughtful."

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 5, 2007 5:58:32 PM

This decision goes to show that the rules of sentencing operate -- or should operate -- in both directions. In Rattoballi, the Second Circuit vacated a below-Guidelines sentence as unreasonable. Today, the Circuit relies on Rattoballi to do the same thing to an above-Guidelines sentence.

I'd be interested to read the Second Circuit blog's assessment of this opinion. That blog was quite critical of the court's decision in Rattoballi -- and yet, it is the basis upon which this above-Guidelines sentence is vacated as unreasonable.

Posted by: | Mar 5, 2007 6:07:03 PM

You can't have substantive analysis under "reasonableness review." Either a sentence is the result of a reasoned process by the district judge (which always occurs), or it is the process of insanity (which does not occur). Therefore, we have "taste review," which is "I don't like that sentence" or "I do like that sentence." No greater reasoning is possible. Just disagreement. It's a mess. And, to sound like a clanging gong, I hope that SCOTUS clears it up with a highly deferential standard of review.


Posted by: Mark | Mar 6, 2007 9:35:58 AM

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