Sentencing

The Federal Docket

Recent Study on Federal Sentences Identifies “Most Discriminatory Federal Judges”

The Institute for Quantitative Study of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity recently published a study regarding the effects of racial discrimination on sentencing in federal criminal cases. Unlike previous studies of this topic, however, this study includes a list of “the federal judges who exhibit the clearest evidence of racial discrimination.”

United States v. Johnson (D.C. Cir. July 13, 2021)

The D.C. Circuit held that a defendant’s right against doubly jeopardy was violated where he was convicted of both unlawful receipt or possession of a firearm or destructive device and unlawful making of a firearm, as these counts were multiplicitous.

United States v. Jerry Sanchez Carrasquillo (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence. The Court held that the district court had failed to elicit objections before pronouncing sentence, but the record was sufficient on appeal so remand was not necessary. Regarding the merits, the Court held that the district court had properly applied the enhancement for firearm possession under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) and denied safety valve relief under 5C1.2. While a defendant can still qualify for the safety valve even though the firearm enhancement applies, the defendant here did not meet the requirement for safety valve because the district court found his firearm was “definitely connected” to his drug offense.

United States v. Katie Boll (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s sentence and the sentencing court’s application of the enhancement for an offense involving a “large number” of vulnerable victims. The Court held that the defendant’s actions in stealing pain medication from 14 patients warranted the application where the district court found that this was a “large number” relative to similar offenses.

United States v. Andrew Sarchett (8th Cir. July 2021)

The Eighth Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence for distributing methamphetamine based on the sentencing court improperly calculating the defendant’s drug quantity. The Court held that drugs found in the defendant’s girlfriend’s car should not have been included in the defendant’s total drug quantity where the additional quantity was based solely on a stipulation in the plea agreement that the girlfriend had made certain statements about the drugs. The stipulation did not establish that her statements were true, and there was no additional evidence tying the defendant to the drugs.

United States v. Christopher Henry (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the sentence of a defendant after the sentencing court declined to grant the defendant a downward departure under USSG 5G1.3 based on his time served on a state sentence for relevant conduct. The Court reasoned that Booker rendered all Guidelines advisory, including 5G1.3. Judge W. Pryor dissented, arguing that 5G1.3 was binding notwithstanding Booker, since the Guideline did not address the sentencing range but rather the kinds of sentences a judge can impose. The opinion was also contrary to prior panel precedent in US v. Knight.

United States v. Mario Alberto Montenegro (11th Cir. June 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of the 2-point enhancement for possessing a firearm or dangerous weapon during a drug offense. Although the Government conceded at sentencing that it could not meet its burden and the defendant objected to the enhancement, the Court held that the district court, not the parties, apply the guidelines, and there was sufficient evidence to apply the enhancement here where the defendant’s rifle was found in a “very small trailer,” where the defendant sold and kept drugs, and the rifle was in “very close proximity” to the drugs.

United States v. Joshua Rogers (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s 360-month sentence for producing child pornography after the defendant pleaded to engaging in a sexual relationship with a 16-year old girl and posting pictures of them having intercourse together. The Court held that 1) the enhancement for material depicting masochistic, sadistic, or violent conduct applied based on an image of the defendant choking the victim during sex, and 2) the 5-point enhancement for a “pattern of activity” involving prohibited sexual conduct is not double counting because the Sentencing Commission intended for it to be cumulative to all other enhancements.

Terry v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 9-0 decision (with J. Sotomayor concurring in the judgment), the Supreme Court held that a defendant who had been convicted for a crack-cocaine offense that did not carry a mandatory minimum did not have a conviction for a “covered offense” under the First Step Act and was thus ineligible to move for a sentence reduction. The First Step Act had the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.

Borden v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that prior convictions for offenses that only require a mens rea of “recklessness” cannot serve as predicate convictions under the “elements clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court reasoned that the language requiring that an offense involved the use of force “against the person of another,” reflected that the perpetrator must act purposefully and intentionally.

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