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December 20, 2021

Eighth Circuit panel affirms time-served sentence for enticement of a (fake) minor when guidelines recommended 46-57 months

A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this interesting Eighth Circuit panel ruling today in US v. Davis, No. 21-1283 (8th Cir. Dec. 20, 2021) (available here). Here are portions from the opinion's start and heart:

Fredrick M. Davis pled guilty to attempted coercion or enticement of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(a).  The district court sentenced him to time served and 120 months’ supervised release, including one year of home confinement. The United States appeals the below-guidelines sentence....

In 2019 Davis contacted “Addyson” and “Sara” online.  They identified themselves as 14-year-old girls, but were actually personas of undercover law enforcement. Davis asked them to meet with him in a hotel in Dickinson, North Dakota.  He sent them sexually explicit messages and a graphic picture, and asked them to send him explicit pictures.

Davis was arrested at the North Dakota hotel where he intended to meet the girls. Under a pretrial agreement, Davis pled guilty to one charge—attempted coercion or enticement of a minor. His advisory guideline range was 46-57 months.  As required by the pretrial agreement, the parties jointly recommended a 60-month sentence and five years of supervised release.  The district court sentenced Davis to time served (two months) and 120 months of supervised release, including one year of home confinement, participation in sex offender treatment, and registration as a sex offender....

The government objected to the sentence for failing to afford adequate deterrent effect (the district court noted the objection).  But a district court has “wide latitude” to weigh factors, and it “may give some factors less weight than a [party] prefers or more weight to other factors, but that alone does not justify reversal.”  United States v. Brown, 992 F.3d 665, 673–74 (8th Cir. 2021).  In its written statement of reasons, the district court did acknowledge the need to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct. It chose to give other factors more weight than the deterrence factor, which is not a clear error of judgment.

The government also argues that the district court erred in weighing the Post Conviction Risk Assessment.  The record shows the district court considered the PCRA in conjunction with other factors.  In fact, at sentencing, the court asked the prosecutor: “do you agree with the assessment in the PSR that the risk level is very low for this offender to reoffend?”  He replied, “I do agree, yes, Your Honor.”  It is within the district court’s discretion to weigh such factors.

The government contends Davis’s commendable 20-year military career and his exemplary behavior on pretrial release are not “sufficiently compelling” to justify his below-guidelines sentence.  See Gall, 552 U.S. at 50.  But, this court “may not require ‘“extraordinary” circumstances to justify a sentence outside the Guidelines.’” Feemster, 572 F.3d at 462, quoting Gall, 552 U.S. at 47.  The district court’s rationale for granting the variance does not need to be extraordinary, only substantively reasonable.

18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1) instructs the sentencer to consider a defendant’s history and characteristics.  In his meritorious military career — half his adult life — he earned numerous awards and commendations, including the Combat Action Ribbon and recognitions for service in Iraq and Somalia.  Cf. U.S.S.G. § 5H1.11 (“Military service may be relevant in determining whether a departure is warranted, if the military service, individually or in combination with other offender characteristics, is present to an unusual degree and distinguishes the case from the typical cases covered by the guidelines.”).  He also did more than simply staying out of trouble while on pretrial release: he acknowledged his conduct, expressed remorse, sought ongoing treatment for his service-related PTSD, and got and maintained a job....

The ten years of supervised release, one year of home confinement, and other restrictions here are a substantial punishment.  “[T]he Guidelines are only one of the factors to consider when imposing a sentence, and § 3553(a)(3) directs the judge to consider sentences other than imprisonment.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 59.  “[C]ustodial sentences are qualitatively more severe than probationary sentences of equivalent terms,” but “[o]ffenders on probation are nonetheless subject to several standard conditions that substantially restrict their liberty.” Id. at 48.  In Gall itself, the Court reversed for not giving due deference to the district court’s “reasoned and reasonable decision that the § 3553(a) factors, on the whole, justified the sentence” of probation. Id. at 59-60. 

December 20, 2021 at 01:30 PM | Permalink

Comments

An excellent outcome to a very tragic case. The judge was insightful, and the sentence fair and just. In fact, placing him on the sex offender registry, in my opinion, is excessive as all agreed the risk of re-offending is very low. The registry does not serve as a deterrent, but only as an obstacle to recovery.

Posted by: SG | Dec 20, 2021 2:00:06 PM

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