United States v. Farley (10th Cir. June 2022)

The Federal Docket

June 28, 2022

Connor Biggs Farley pled guilty to 3 counts of producing child pornography, each count pertaining to a separate child-victim and carrying a mandatory minimum of 15 years. He appealed the imposition of a 630-month sentence, a sentence higher than the joint recommendation from the defendant and government, arguing that the district court had committed two procedural errors in arriving there.

The Tenth Circuit first considered the district court’s statement that it felt “subject to the spirt” of the legislature in imposing consecutive sentences of the mandatory minimum on each count out of respect for each victim. Applying plain-error review, the Court held that the statement did not reflect a misunderstanding of law warranting reversal, since the district court was aware it had discretion to run the sentences consecutively or concurrently.

In the second claim of procedural error, however, the district court expressed concern that it would have to “depart ten levels” to get to the 480-month sentence recommended by the prosecutors, based on the way it had combined and calculated the multiple counts calling for life under the Guidlines (which max out at offense level 43), and this was one of its bases for rejecting the recommendation and sentencing the defendant to a longer sentence of 630 months.

The Tenth Circuit found that this statement was “unambiguously contradicted by the guidelines,” which, if applied correctly, would only have required the court to vary downward one offense level from Level 42 to get to the recommended sentence. This being one of the court’s 3 key considerations in arriving at the sentence, the misunderstanding constituted procedural unreasonableness that warranted reversal and remand for resentencing.

Appeal from the District of Wyoming
Opinion by Ebel, joined by Bacharach and Carson

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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