United States v. Fareed Mumuni (2d Cir. December 2019)

The Federal Docket

January 15, 2020

Sentencing – The district court’s downward variance of 80% from a Guidelines range of 85 years in prison to 17 years in prison was substantively unreasonable based on the Court of Appeals finding that the district court improperly second-guessed the defendant’s state of mind, created an unwarranted disparity between the defendants, and placed too much weight on mitigating factors.

Fareer Mumuni was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS and attempting to murder a federal agent in the name of ISIS. As part of his offense, Mumuni had charged at a federal agent with a knife and tried to stab him—though it was a point of contention between the defense and the Government regarding whether Mumuni was actually attempting to kill the agent or just intended to be shot by the other armed agents in order to become a martyr.

Mumuni’s Guidelines range called for roughly 85 years’ imprisonment. The district court varied downward from the Guidelines, however, and sentenced Mumuni to only 17 years, an 80% variance from the Guidelines. The Government appealed, challenging the substantive reasonableness of the sentence.

On appeal, despite the significant degree of deference generally accorded to sentencing courts, the Second Circuit vacated the sentence and found that the district court abused its discretion. First, the Court “clearly erred” by “second-guessing” whether Mumuni actually intended to kill the officer, especially given his guilty plea to attempt murder. The Court stressed that its holding was based on the district court’s “inability to accurately ass the record,” namely the sentencing court’s discussion of whether Mumuni actually intended to kill the agent when he lunged at him with the knife. The Court held that the defendant’s guilty plea and allocution to attempted murder precluded the district court from contradicting the defendant’s admitted conduct through its fact-finding at sentencing.

The Court also noted that Mumuni’s sentence was disproportionately lenient compared to his co-defendant’s 18-year sentence, noting that his co-defendant had not physically attack a federal agent (though the Court earlier noted that the co-defendant was apparently a “full-fledged” member of ISIS and recruiter with a “radicalizing gift”). Finally, the Court also held that the district court placed weight on certain mitigating factors “that could not bear the weight…assigned to them.” While the district court weighed Mumuni’s youth, lack of a criminal record, compliance with pretrial and presentencing conditions, and the letters submitted by his family and friends in varying downward from the Guidelines, the Court held that these factors weren’t enough to justify the downward variance. The Court concluded that the sentence imposed in this case “shocks the conscience.”

Judge Hall concurred with the majority’s reading of the record and that the district court needed to further clarify why it second-guessed Mumuni despite his earlier allocution. Judge Hall dissented as to the majority’s finding that Mumuni’s 17-year sentence was “shockingly low” and criticized the majority for undermining the significant discretion granted to district courts. Judge Hall expressed his fear that “the majority would prefer to substitute its sentencing preference for that of the District Court.”

On Appeal from the Eastern District of New York

Opinion by Cabranes, joined by Walker

Opinion by Hall concurring in part and dissenting in part

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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