Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fourth Circuit vacates variance sentence of probation only in crack cociane distribution case

In United States v. Pyles, Pyles pled guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the distribution of crack cocaine. Although the advisory guideline range called for 63-78 months’ imprisonment, the district court imposed a variance sentence of 5 years’ probation with 6 months’home confinement. The district court viewed probation as an appropriate sentence because Pyles was off drugs, off alcohol, was holding a job, and seemed to have reformed himself. The government appealed the sentence.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that in rejecting a sentence of imprisonment, the district court failed to place sufficient weight on "the need for the sentence imposed . . . to reflect the seriousness of the offense . . . and to provide just punishment for the offense," under 18 U.S.C.A. § 3553(a)(2)(A). The panel also chastised the district court for rejecting the Sentencing Commission’s judgment that an offense involving crack cocaine is a serious offense that must be punished by a meaningful sentence of imprisonment. The sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing.

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