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December 14, 2007

Sixth Circuit affirms 1,772-month over Eighth Amendment challenge

Today the Sixth Circuit in US v. Watkins, No. 05-4551 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 2007) (available here), affirms 1,772-month sentence over an Eighth Amendment objection.  Here are the basics from the opinion:

Watkins argues that his sentence of 1,772 months is grossly disproportionate punishment when compared to the crimes for which he was convicted.  He notes that he did not fire a gun, that no person was physically injured during the robberies, and that his criminal history prior to the robberies was zero.  He asserts that his lack of criminal history and the absence of any physical harm to the victims weighs heavily against the imposition of a sentence that will confine him for the remainder of his life....

Although Watkins is correct in arguing that the Eighth Amendment places an outer limit on criminal penalties that are grossly disproportionate to the offense, this is not such a case. See Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 290 n.16 (1983) (stating that, under the Eighth Amendment, appellate courts may review a sentence to determine if it is within constitutional limits). Watkins was convicted of six separate robberies, each of which involved the brandishing of a firearm. He and/or his accomplices entered the homes of victims by force and threatened to seriously harm or kill not only the victims, but, in multiple cases, their spouses and small children. In light of the numerosity and seriousness of the offenses, the comparable sentences imposed by this circuit in similar circumstances, and the requirement that sentences for § 924(c) firearms convictions run consecutively to all other sentences, Watkins’s sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offenses.

December 14, 2007 at 04:20 PM | Permalink


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The sentence doesn't seem problematic at all. What's the issue?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 14, 2007 5:03:53 PM

I love it when "federalist" is humourous without even meaning to be.

Posted by: | Dec 14, 2007 5:17:20 PM

Life in prison for a robery. Aint America great?

Posted by: EJ | Dec 14, 2007 7:28:13 PM

After you have a gun pointed in your face, in your own home by multiple assailants all of whom forced their way in, with your small children and spouse crying by your side, begging you to end the violent threats on your life and that of your family, you will thoroughly understand why a sentence in which there is no possibility of the "robber" ever doing so again is not only appropriate, but constitutes the very definition of justice.

Posted by: WAS | Dec 14, 2007 9:16:05 PM

Yikes. I hope those are dog months.

Posted by: sheesh | Dec 14, 2007 10:19:57 PM

That's not justice, that's vengeance for the victims.

147 years? And no one was killed or seriously harmed, no one lost their life savings in a mortgage scam? Ridiculous excess for temporary harm.

Posted by: babalu | Dec 14, 2007 10:55:50 PM

I guess the problem is "1772 months" sounds a lot longer, arbitrary, and egregious than "life".

Posted by: bruce | Dec 15, 2007 8:55:05 AM

"Temporary harm"? You're kidding, right? I've worked w/ victims of violent crime now for 12-years. I can assure you, there is no such thing as "temporary harm" after being on the receiving end of the kind of violence that occured in this case.

Posted by: WAS | Dec 15, 2007 10:47:35 AM

Another fine example of sentencing disparity. Sentences of 360 months, in which individuals have died are not that uncommon. A sentence of 150 years, in which, apparently no one was killed, let alone physically harmed? And, the "victims" were only scared??? As to "WAS" comments: the punishment is not designed to placate the victim; we, as a society have [or at least should have] long moved from the eye-for-an-eye philosophy. And, of course, federalist has never met a severe punishment he do not glory in.

Posted by: bernie kleinman | Dec 15, 2007 10:52:11 AM

Another fine example of sentencing disparity. Sentences of 360 months, in which individuals have died are not that uncommon. A sentence of 150 years, in which, apparently no one was killed, let alone physically harmed? And, the "victims" were only scared??? As to "WAS" comments: the punishment is not designed to placate the victim; we, as a society have [or at least should have] long moved from the eye-for-an-eye philosophy. And, of course, federalist has never met a severe punishment he do not glory in.

Posted by: bernie kleinman | Dec 15, 2007 10:53:54 AM

For cases where nobody dies or suffers extreme and permanent physical bodily (not mental) harm from an intentional act of the defendant, the maximum sentence should be 15 years. I'd say 10 years, but I'll concede a bit and say 15 for really bad cases. With parole.

For cases where somebody does get killed by the defendant, 25 years should be the maximum, except that it should be 25 per deceased. Kill 2 people, 50 years, kill 3, 75 years. All with possibility of parole. Anything over 75 years (i.e. 4 or more dead victims) should then be converted to life without parole.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 15, 2007 11:31:08 AM

Anything longer than 100 years is obviously excessive for this conduct.

Posted by: Seisen | Dec 15, 2007 12:54:52 PM

Bernie: Anyone who thinks placating victims is not the primary goal and funciton of punishment in the modern American victim-state is simply blind and ludicrous.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 15, 2007 2:06:32 PM

Here's one (of six!) robberies, as described by the court:

"In July of 2004, Gary Watkins and Eric Watkins invaded Linda Battaglia’s home in Groveport, Ohio and abducted her and her two daughters at gunpoint. The men forced Battaglia and her two children to drive with them to the Western Credit Union where Battaglia worked. Battaglia did not have the combination to the safe, so the men tied up Battaglia and her children and held them in the credit union until a supervisor with the combination to the vault arrived."

In several cases, the defendants threatened the victims' children; in at least one other case, they took the victims' children with them, at gunpoint, to the institution they were robbing.

Not sure I'd pick these guys as the poster boys for the evils of the American prison-industrial-complex. (Not that the U.S. doesn't grossly overpunish lots of crimes....)

Posted by: matth | Dec 16, 2007 4:00:31 AM

Anytime the defendant has abducted someone (let alone multiple people, as in this case) at gunpoint, there is an enormous risk that they will kill someone if they are ever let out. So I don't see any problem with throwing away the key.

Posted by: | Dec 16, 2007 11:35:55 AM

Any cite to back up that last statement made at 11:35:55AM? Or does it just seem so 'obvious' that it must be true?

Posted by: bruce | Dec 16, 2007 1:24:25 PM

Guys, this beast took kids hostage at gunpoint in front of their parents. He should never see freedom.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 16, 2007 4:48:57 PM

Then let's be honest about it, federalist. Life imprisonment for all robbers and/or all kidnappers?

Posted by: Anon | Dec 16, 2007 10:28:44 PM

Anyone who hasn't read the court's description of this crime spree should definitely do so; it really helps understand the sentence. Since a lot of people seem to think the sentence was excessive, I'm genuinely interested in hearing what kind of sentence they think would be appropriate.

For your ease of reference, here's a summary of the defendants' crimes. These events happened over a period of years. Sorry to take up so much space, but they were very busy boys.

They kidnapped a man at gunpoint, tied him up, took him to a business, forced him to open the safe, then robbed the store and left the man tied up. Next, they went to a man's house, held him at gunpoint, and forced him to accompany them to a store which they tried to rob. Next, they invaded a family's house, tied up the husband, locked the husband and 2 children in a bathroom, and took the wife at gunpoint to a store, which they robbed. Next, they took an entire family--a husband, wife, and 6-year-old child--at gunpoint to a store, which they robbed, and then left with the family's car. Next, they abducted a man at gunpoint, forced him to take them to his house, abducted him, his wife, and their three children, and took the entire family to a store, which they robbed. Next, they kidnapped a woman and her two children at gunpoint, took them to a store, and held them there at gunpoint until an additional employee arrived, whereupon they robbed the store.

Does anyone, reading this, actually think a life sentence for these particular criminals is outrageous? For example, bruce, do you think that anything over 15 years for this is categorically unreasonable? (Maybe your 15-year cap applies per crime--but if so, I don't see what your complaint is, because, counting the robberies and kidnappings separately, that could easily justify a life sentence.)

Posted by: matth | Dec 17, 2007 1:03:12 AM

You know, when people whine about sentences like these they are simply doing a little moral preening: "Hey everybody, look how enlightened I am." In actuality, they are simply showing people how stupid they are.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 17, 2007 1:39:36 AM

federalist: that's true about some anti-death penalty people, but not people merely against long prison sentences.

matth: I support stacking in some instances, possibly such as this one. It seems he committed 6 separate robberies, so should be sentenced (up to 15 years) for each one. They should be consecutive. No different than if he committed the crime, served his time, got out, and then did it again. So under my plan it would be a de facto life sentence in this situation. This does not appear to have been one criminal episode, but rather six. However, if stacking is the option, then I believe the defendant deserves a separate trial on each of the six robberies, with evidence of the other 5 kept out so as not to prejudice the jury. If there is only going to be one trial and the same jury is going to hear about all six at the same time, then it doesn't seem right to me to allow stacking/consecutive sentences. I see the judicial resources argument, but I never buy those. If you want him to serve more than 15 years, give him 6 separate trials. Or maybe 3 (45 years) is enough, depending on the age of the defendant.

This was an egregious crime. That being said, nobody was physically hurt, let alone killed.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 17, 2007 1:33:03 PM

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