Friday, February 24, 2006

District Courts Cannot Categorically Reject 100:1 Crack/Powder Ratio

US v. Eura: Eura was convicted by a jury of possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of crack and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense. The calculations in the PSR produced an advisory Guideline range of 78 to 97 months on the crack count. At sentencing, the district court concluded that this "is not the kind of case that the guideline does not provide -- the crack guideline does not provide an appropriate, fair, and just punishment, and so the Court will not impose a sentence within the guidelines in this case." The court then imposed the mandatory minimum sentence of 60 months on the crack count, consecutively with the mandatory 60-month sentence on the gun count. The Government appealed the sentence.*

The court vacated Eura's sentence, due to what it saw as the district court's wholesale rejection of the 100-to-1 crack/powder ratio and the advisory Guideline range resulting from it. Specifically, the court noted that:

we are of the opinion that the district court did not adequately and properly consider 18 USC 3553(a)(6) in sentencing Eura. Had the court done so, it most assuredly would have concluded that it could not rely on the Sentencing Commission's recommendations to narrow the 100:1 ratio in imposing sentence.
Allowing district courts to substitute their own ratios for the Guidelines's would result in unwarranted sentencing disparities, the court concluded (citing to the number of district courts that had applied various ratios post-Booker). The court did not deal with the argument that the 100:1 ratio itself causes unwarranted disparities and may, therefore, violate 3553(a)(6), as well. The court did not foreclose the possibility of variances from the Guideline ranges produced by the 100:1 ratio:

We certainly envision instances in which some of the 3553(a) factors will warrant a variance from the advisory sentencing range in a crack cocaine case. However, a sentencing court must identify the individual aspects of the defendant's case that fit within the factors listed in 18 USC 3553(a) and, in reliance on those findings, impose a non-Guidelines sentence that is reasonable.
(emphasis in original). The Sentencing Commission's "recommendations," however, "cannot be used as a basis to vary from the advisory sentencing range." Because the court in this case "did not mention any facts concerning Eura as an individual that would have warranted a sentence outside the sentencing range," his sentence was unreasonable. As with Moreland, the court vacates the sentence and remands "For resentence at the low end of the sentencing range."

Judge Michael concurred in the judgment and opinion, but wrote separately to explain the value of the Sentencing Commission's findings regarding the 100:1 ratio. He specifically endorses using those findings in support of arguments that specific individuals in unique cases should receive below the Guidelines sentences.

* Eura appealed the denial of a suppression motion prior to trial. Officers search his home pursuant to a warrant, finding several guns but no drugs. An "unspecified woman at the residence" told the officers that two cars parked out front belong to Eura. A dog sniff uncovered crack and ecstasy in the center console of one of the cars. Eura argued that the officers should not have been allowed to do the dog sniff after coming up empty on the search of the house. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, without (somewhat staggeringly) ever mentioning Caballes.

Doug Berman's thoughts on Eura can be found here.

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