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December 18, 2008

Judge Gertner applies the safety valve while imposing a within-guideline sentence

It is been a while since I have had a chance to talk up a new sentencing opinion from federal District Judge Nancy Gertner.  Joyfully, she provides sentencing fans with an early holiday present today through a lengthy opinion in US v. Matos, No. 05cr30012-NG (D. Mass. Dec. 18, 2008) (available for download below).  There are lots of parts of Matos worth quoting, but I thought readers would find intriguing the Judge Gertner's explanation for why she here decided to impose a within-guideline sentence (after finding safety-valve applicability to avoid a higher mandatory minimum sentence): 

To be sure, in the Court’s judgment, the Guidelines sentences for non-violent drug offenders are much, much too high as a general matter to effect the purposes of punishment.  Moreover, this Court does not stand alone in that analysis. But before the Court sentences a defendant to a particular period of time, it needs a rationale, beyond the general policy judgment of an individual judge.

For example, in the case at bar, there was no information about why a sentence of 24 months rather than 36 or 57 months would accomplish deterrence, appropriately incapacitate this individual, or prevent recidivism.  There was no information about how other judges sentenced similarly situated individuals. There was no information about the likely conditions of Matos’ confinement, and little information about the impact of Matos’ incarceration on his family. While Matos is surely close to his family, the record provided no basis for adjusting his sentence on this ground. In short, there were no factors — individual to Matos or the crime he committed — that suggested 57 months imprisonment was an inappropriate sentence.

Rather, where the only reason why the Court would reject a Guidelines sentence is because of its disagreement with the Guidelines' policy choices, that is not sufficient in and of itself. Accordingly, on the record before the Court, it finds that the sentence fits the offense and offender.

Download MatosSentencing

December 18, 2008 at 03:43 PM | Permalink


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In other words the mere existence of guns in the house cannot be used to frame or reframe the jeopardy argument. The guns must have had a collateral relationship to the threshold crimes; otherwise they play no role in sentencing.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Dec 19, 2008 10:44:17 AM

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