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June 20, 2017

Seventh Circuit panel again finds below-guideline sentence for abusive police officer unreasonable

Especially because it can sometimes seem that post-Booker reasonableness review of sentences has little bite, it still seems blogworthy whenever a circuit court finds a federal sentence unreasonable.  The work of a Seventh Circuit panel yesterday in US v. Smith, No. 16-2035 (7th Cir. June 19, 2017) (available  here), struck me as doubly blogworthy because it represents the second time the same sentence has been reversed and because the defendant here is an abusive local police officer.  Here is how the opinion gets started:

A jury convicted Terry Joe Smith, a police officer, of violating 18 U.S.C. § 242, by subjecting two men to the intentional use of unreasonable and excessive force, and violating their civil right to be free of such abuse.  The district court sentenced Smith to fourteen months’ imprisonment, less than half the low end of the applicable guidelines range. In the first appeal of the case, we affirmed Smith’s conviction but vacated the sentence and remanded for full resentencing, concluding that the court had failed to justify the below-guidelines sentence. United States v. Smith, 811 F.3d 907 (7th Cir. 2016).  On remand, the court again sentenced Smith to fourteen months’ imprisonment and once more failed to adequately explain or justify the below-guidelines sentence. We again vacate and remand for a complete re-sentencing.

Here are the essential basics from the opinion of the defendant's crime and recommended guideline punishment:

Smith was a police officer employed by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.  In two separate incidents, Smith violently assaulted arrestees who were already under control and not actively resisting arrest. At trial, Smith’s fellow police officers testified against him, describing the unwarranted [and brutal] attacks....

Smith’s guidelines range was thirty-three to forty-one months’ imprisonment. Smith was in Criminal History Category I, based on one prior conviction for misdemeanor battery of a three-year-old child and the child’s mother, who was then Smith’s wife.

The lengthy Smith opinion follows with lots of notable and interesting discussion about how the sentencing court justified a sentence of 14 months and why the circuit panel believe this below-guideline sentence was unreasonable even at a second sentencing with additional evidence.  And, as sometimes happens in the post-Booker world, the circuit panel officially ruled the sentence procedurally unreasonable, but it seems pretty clear that the panel was troubled by what it perceived to be a substantively light sentence under these circumstances.

June 20, 2017 at 02:35 PM | Permalink


Given the prior misdemeanor I would say the 33 to 41 month guideline range is already incredibly light.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jun 20, 2017 4:32:30 PM

Given the fact society puts trust in a police officer, allows them to carry a gun and give them way too much authority to begin with....I have to concur with Soronel Haetir's comment above.

Posted by: Book38 | Jun 20, 2017 6:44:21 PM

So. The court of appeals wanted a heavier sentence?

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jun 20, 2017 7:55:53 PM

Prof. B: Attending this?


Posted by: David Behar | Jun 20, 2017 9:03:07 PM

What a joke. It is criminal stupidity like this that has all but killed the two of law enforcement. If this had been some citizen first charge would have been assault and battert. Second if he had used a weapon would have been of course assault with a deadly wrapon. Let us not forget that according to law enforcement and the courts that when used against law enforcement even the light touch of a finger counts. But the real killer is his own brother officers witnessed these assaults and did Jack shit.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Jun 21, 2017 12:33:10 AM

David: I have never been to ComFest, but I never realized what I might be missing. And for all your anti-lawyer rhetoric, you have to give it to the lawyer who secured his client's right to take off her shirt. Quoting the article you linked: "Forman said Tuesday’s ruling is a win for human rights."

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 21, 2017 8:22:19 PM

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