Wednesday, January 03, 2007

3553(a) Doesn't Require Low End of Guideline Sentence; Court Can't Order Sentence to Run Consecutively to Future Sentences

US v. Smith: Smith pleaded guilty to five counts of bank robbery. After an upward departure, his Guideline sentencing range was 151 to 188 months. The district court sentenced him to 180 months in prison, to be served consecutively to "any other sentence imposed in any other case, or on any other probation revocation or whatever." At the time, Smith had a pending supervised release revocation proceeding in another district. On appeal, Smith raised to objections to his sentence, one of which the Fourth rejected, the other the court accepted and vacated Smith's sentence.

Smith's first objection was that he should have been sentenced to the bottom of the Guideline range - 151 months - because it was "sufficient, but not greater than necessary" to achieve the goals of sentencing. Smith argued that if sentences within the Guideline range are presumptively mandatory because the Guidelines incorporate the 3553(a) factors and 3553(a) requires the court to impose the least harsh sentence possible to achieve those goals, than the harshest sentence that can be imposed is the low end of the Guideline range. The court, while noted that this argument was "clever, [but] has no merit." The Fourth explained that:
rests on a logical fallacy: the fact that a sentence at the lowest end of the guidelines range could be reasonable if the sentencing judge concluded it was sufficient does not mean that the sentencing judge must conclude that it is sufficient. It is the sentencing judge who must initially determine what is sufficient. To hold that the lowest sentence in an applicable guidelines range is always sufficient would rob § 3553(a) of its force.
Smith's second objection was that the district court exceeded its authority by ordering his sentence to be served consecutively to future sentences not yet imposed. Reviewing 18 USC 3584, the Fourth agreed, noting that the statutory language clearly allowed the district court to impose consecutive sentences only where it was imposing multiple sentences at the same time or where the defendant was already subject to an incomplete term of incarceration. The court rejected the Government's argument that the 3584(a) presumption that sentences imposed at different times run consecutively trumps the rest of the statute, holding that such a reading would ignore the limitations already noted and would effectively abrogate the sentencing authority of one federal judge (the one imposing a sentence in the future) in favor of another.

Smith's sentence was vacated and his case remanded for resentencing.

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