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February 2, 2008

Another Wal-mart (sentencing) discount for former executive

WalmartimageThis article discussing a high-profile federal sentencing in Arkansas provides yet another example of the impact of the Supreme Court's Gall decision on current federal sentencing realities.  Here are some highlights:

A federal court judge Friday gave former Wal-Mart vice chairman Tom Coughlin nearly the same sentence he gave him in August 2006.

After a three-hour sentencing hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson again sentenced Coughlin to five years of probation and 27 months of home detention with an electronic monitoring device. Added to Coughlin’s sentence Friday was 1, 500 hours of community service....

Coughlin, 58, pleaded guilty in January 2006 to wire fraud and tax evasion, admitting he stole gift cards and equipment from the world’s largest retailer. He also falsified vouchers and invoices in order to pocket the cash.... In giving Coughlin home detention and probation, Dawson departed from federal sentencing guidelines that called for Coughlin to be sentenced to 27 to 33 months in prison.

The government said it asked for prison time for Coughlin because of the severity of the crimes and his abuse of his position of trust in the company. “We believe this was a case that needed prison time,” Assistant U. S. Attorney Christopher Plumlee said after Friday’s proceedings. He said discussions would be held in the Justice Department before the government decides whether to appeal Dawson’s sentence again.

The government appealed Dawson’s original sentence to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the sentence and sent it back to Dawson for resentencing. Dawson said he declined to send Coughlin to prison because he had no previous criminal record, because Coughlin had a record of community service, and because of the former executive’s public fall from his position in life and the effect it had on him and his family.  Prison would threaten the life of a nonviolent offender, the judge said. Dawson said he believed the sentence “punished the defendant sufficiently but not greater than necessary.”...

Dawson’s original sentence of Coughlin was overturned and remanded in August by the 8th Circuit because his departure from sentencing guidelines did not “fall within the range of reasonableness.” The U.S. Supreme Court, in Gall v. U.S. in December, ruled that appeals courts erred in failing to give district judges leeway in sentencing.  Dawson wrote in a 30-page sentencing memorandum he made public Friday that the Gall case also found the appeals courts erred in requiring extraordinary circumstances to support substantial variations from the sentencing guidelines. Dawson wrote that his sentencing memorandum was a discussion of the impact of the Gall ruling on Coughlin’s case and his justification for departing from the sentencing guidelines in Coughlin’s sentence.

I will post Judge Dawson's new sentencing memorandum as soon as I track down a copy.

UPDATE:  A friendly reader sent me a copy of the opinion, which is a great read (even though my last name is spelled wrong in the second footnote):

Download walmart_sentencing_memorandum.pdf

February 2, 2008 at 12:03 PM | Permalink


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How great is this now we can let judges judge.
This was a statement
chalk one up for the good guys.

Posted by: | Feb 2, 2008 6:29:02 PM

The quoted news article fails to acknowledge the principal basis for the downward variance: Coughlin's serious health problems. He is a "sudden cardiac death survivor," who was literally brought back to life following a near fatal heart attack. He has numerous other medical problems. His treating cardiologist testified that Coughlin is "57 going on 82" and described the serious risks that incarceration presents for Coughlin's health. The BOP, as always, took the position that it can provide adequate health care for anyone, but the district judge did not want to take the risk of putting Coughlin into BOP's care. Once you get the district judge's opinion, you ought to modify the posting to more accurately reflect the actual record.

Posted by: | Feb 3, 2008 9:41:47 AM

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