Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fourth Circuit reverses lenient sentence because district judge did not take into account the Sentencing Guidelines

In United States v. Clark, Clark was convicted in federal court for the federal crime of conspiring to distribute crack cocaine. The Guidelines provided that she be sentenced to between 46 and 57 months. The district court sentenced Clark to eight months because Clark would have received a much lower sentence for a comparable state crime in Virginia.

The Fourth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded because the district court either failed to consider or considered improperly the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities
among federal defendants as required by 18 U.S.C. section 3553(a)(6).

The Fourth Circuit described the district court's folly as this:

Believing itself free to do so because the Sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory, the district court simply resorted to state law for additional insight as to what would constitute a reasonable sentence under the circumstances, wholly without regard for whether the sentence thereby mposed would result in sentencing disparities.

Hence, the Fourth Circuit has reaffirmed that even though the Guidelines are not mandatory, district judges should pay close attention to the ranges.

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