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April 9, 2009

Notable Sixth Circuit reversal for procedural unreasonableness

The Sixth Circuit today has an interesting little reasonableness decision in US v. Garcia-Robles, No. 07-2209 (6th Cir. April 9, 2009) (available here). Here is how the decision starts, and a few key lines from the ruling:

In June 2007, Julio Cesar Garcia- Robles (“Garcia-Robles”) pleaded guilty to unlawful re-entry of an alien deported after an aggravated felony conviction. The district court and the parties agreed that Garcia- Robles’s sentencing guidelines range was 30 to 37 months of incarceration.  At sentencing, Garcia-Robles asked for a downward variance to a sentence of 24 months of incarceration.  The government asked that the court impose a sentence within the guidelines range.  The district court determined that, because of the severity of the offense and the fact that Garcia-Robles had previously returned to the United States after deportation, an upward variance was necessary.  The district court sentenced Garcia- Robles to 96 months of incarceration. Garcia-Robles appeals this sentence and argues that the district court failed to give proper notice of this upward variance and that the sentence imposed was procedurally and substantively unreasonable.

We VACATE Garcia-Robles’s sentence as procedurally unreasonable and REMAND for resentencing....

Given the unique circumstances of this case, we hold that the district court’s sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to provide Garcia-Robles with an opportunity meaningfully to address the district court’s chosen sentence.  Based on the PSR and the government’s position that the guideline range was reasonable, Garcia-Robles entered the sentencing hearing believing that he should be arguing against the backdrop of a 30-to-37-month sentence.  Garcia-Robles was unaware that the district court was contemplating a significantly higher sentence and thus had no chance to argue against such a variance before the court announced its sentence.

April 9, 2009 at 10:28 AM | Permalink


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Is this case really all that noteworthy? The judge tied his own hands, and the Sixth Circuit corrected him.

This guy deserves to spend 20 or 30 years in prison. This jerk comes to our country, commits crimes, is asked to leave and then comes back. We need to be able to be sure we will be safe from his presence in our country, and that means he gets to be aged out in an American prison and sent back to his native country.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 9, 2009 10:35:25 AM

Should we apply a stiffer sentence based on a defendant's nationality? I thought that if this was a citizen, he would have received a short drug conviction, and a DUI conviction, nothing more. I read the holding for this case, and I had to ask myself what would compel a human continue crossing the border despite the risk of dehydration, death, arrest, incarceration, and finally deportation. I tried to put myself in his shoes. He had 3 children in the US, and a girlfriend who could not support them. In Mexico, he could only earn 6-10 USD/day, hardly enough to support the kids. In that light, I am unsure of whether we should deport him. In those circumstances I would have done the same.

Posted by: victimless criminal | Apr 10, 2009 12:01:22 PM

The judge wasn't "corrected" ... this guy will get the same 96-month sentence on remand; only now he'll be prepared to argue against 96 months rather than 30-37 months.

I just wish we could get over our desire to punish those with criminal records (i.e. people who have already served their time or otherwise paid their debt to society) more severely than someone otherwise equally situated who does not have a criminal record. You can cry about "recidivism" and how they "didn't learn their lesson" and that they are more "dangerous" but at the end of the day, it's just not fair, and the fact that we've been doing it this way for 200 years is not relevant when it's unfair. Slavery was unfair, too.

The only time it is even remotely logical to punish more severely based on prior offenses is when the current offense is the same as the prior offense.

Posted by: BruceM | Apr 10, 2009 2:12:01 PM

victimless criminal, the facts state that the district court judge found that Garcia-Robles had not been supporting his children as part of the explanation for the upward variance. He didn't receive a "stiffer sentence based on [his] nationality." In some sense, the conviction itself was for his nationality (his crime was unlawful re-entry after deportation). As BruceM notes, it was largely his prior problems with the law that led to the significant upward variance.

Posted by: Thirteen | Apr 11, 2009 8:03:03 PM

As what I have heard because the district court had no jurisdiction to alter Garcia-Robles's sentence at the time it heard his objections to a greatly increased sentence, the district court failed to provide Garcia-Robles with an opportunity meaningfully to address the upward variance in his sentence.

Posted by: ATO SMSF | Dec 21, 2011 12:59:07 AM

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