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April 5, 2009

Split Third Circuit debates crack guideline retroactivity following binding sentencing plea

In a complicated ruling on Friday, a divided Third Circuit in US v. Sanchez, No. 08-1847 (3d Cir. April 5, 2009) (available here), seemed to create a circuit split on whether a district court can reduce a previously imposed crack sentence based on a binding plea agreement.  The first paragraph of Judge Roth's dissent from the Sanchez majority provides a flavor of the issues involved:

No good deed goes unpunished.  The majority provides for resentencing under § 3582(c) for criminal defendants who go to trial – but not for those who enter into binding plea agreements.  For the majority, the binding nature of such agreements justifies a difference in the treatment between the offenders who choose to go to trial and those who choose to plead guilty thus saving judicial and governmental resources.  I find this distinction false because a jury verdict is also binding on the parties. Accordingly, I believe that the binding effect of the factors leading up to the judgment should not preclude the application of § 3582(c).  For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion and suggest that defendants sentenced under binding plea agreements should be permitted to move for resentencing based on a change in the Guidelines that would affect the basic elements that led up to the final plea agreed upon.

For various reasons, Sanchez is not likely a good cert vehicle.  But the ruling spotlights another challenging legal issue that has arisen in the retroactive implementation of the new crack guidelines.  It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court ever takes up any cases involving resentencings under § 3582(c).

April 5, 2009 at 11:02 AM | Permalink


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