Thursday, March 23, 2006

Downward Variance to Probation Not Justified by District Court Findings

US v. Hampton: Hampton pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, a rifle. His uncontested advisory Guideline sentencing range was 57 to 71 months. At sentencing, Hampton argued for a non-custodial sentence:

Defense counsel explained that Hampton did not know that he could not own a rifle (he believed the law only precluded felons from owning handguns), that he cooperated with the police, that he did not use the gun in any crime, that he did not steal the gun but rather bought it lawfully, that he had no criminal or malicious intent in possessing or discharging the firearm, that he had straightened out his life by joining a church and obtaining full-time employment, and that he was 'a single parent of two minor children, wh[o] he is raising and supporting with the help and assistance of his mother.' For these reasons, Hampton’s counsel argued that 'there would be no purpose served, either for . . . the government or Mr. Hampton to incarcerate him for
any period of time.'

The district court agreed and sentenced Hampton to three years probation. The Government appealed and the Fourth Circuit vacated. The Court held that the record did not demonstrate that the district court considered all of the 3553(a) factors, but rather focused on Hampton's status as a single father and provider for his children. Therefore, the sentence was vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

Importantly, Judge Motz concurred "to emphasize that a variance of this magnitude is not per se unreasonable."

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