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July 31, 2008

Eleventh Circuit Holds That Procedural Sentencing Requirements Must Be Strictly Followed


              In an unpublished per curiam decision today (available here), the Eleventh Circuit made clear that judges must strictly adhere to the statutorily imposed procedural requirements of sentencing.  United States v. Narvaez involved a defendant who pled guilty and was sentenced to 210-month concurrent sentences for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to United States jurisdiction.  Although the Eleventh Circuit rejected both of the defendant’s substantive arguments on appeal (involving objections to the district court’s denial of a safety-valve reduction as well as its imposition of a two-level upward adjustment under § 2D1.1), it nonetheless remanded for resentencing because it found that the district court had not provided the reason for the sentence it imposed, as required by § 3553(c)(1).

Here, although the district court listened to the parties’ arguments relating toseveral of the § 3553(a) sentencing factors, it did not refer to § 3553(a) or any§ 3553(a) factor at all during the hearing. The district court did not even state that, after considering the § 3553(a) factors, a 210-month sentence was appropriate. Indeed, the district court gave absolutely no reason for imposing the 210-monthsentence. Instead, the district court ruled on Narvaez’s guidelines objections, calculated the advisory guideline range, stated it planned to impose a sentence within that range and then imposed a 210-month sentence. Accordingly, we vacate Narvaez’s sentence and remand the case to the district court for the sole purpose to permit the district court to comply with § 3553(c)(1) and provide an explanation in open court for the 210-month sentence. See United States v. Williams, 438 F.3d 1272, 1274 (11th Cir. 2006) (concluding that a district court that offered no reason for sentence did not satisfy its statutory duty imposed by § 3553(c)(1)).

            Although unpublished, the Eleventh Circuit’s decision sends a reminder to sentencing judges that the procedural requirements of § 3553(c)(1) must be followed, and that judges must do so explicitly, even if there is no reason to question whether they considered the § 3553(a) factors.

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July 31, 2008 at 09:43 PM | Permalink


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This case is the exception -- not the rule. Circuit courts are letting district courts say very little. This is especially so if the sentence is a within-Guideline sentence.

Posted by: Not the same | Aug 1, 2008 10:06:00 AM

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