Tuesday, April 28, 2009

District Court Must Explain Why Sentence Is Appropriate to Specific Case

US v. Carter: Carter assisted some friends of his in their licensed firearm sales business. Unfortunately, they were selling short-barrelled rifles at gun shows, which led to an ATF investigation. As part of that investigation, Carter's home was searched and it was learned he was a convicted felon. Charged with multiple firearms offenses, Carter pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His Guideline range at sentencing was 36 to 46 months, although if his objections to the calculations were sustained, the range would have been 10 to 16 months and in a range that allowed probation. The district court overruled all the objections, but nonetheless varied from the Guidelines and imposed a sentence of probation. The Government appealed.

The Fourth Circuit vacated Carter's sentence and remanded for further proceedings. The court concluded that the district court had not sufficiently explained why the sentence it imposed was appropriate in Carter's case. Although the court made some statements, they did not apply to Carter's case specifically, such that they "could apply to any sentence, regardless of the offense, the defendant's personal background, or the defendant's criminal history." The court continued that "a talismanic recitation of the 3553(a) factors without application to the defendant being sentenced does not demonstrate reasoned decisionmaking or provide an adequate basis for appellate review." Finally, the court noted that while in pre-Booker times it could assume that the district court adopted Carter's arguments, the current sentencing scheme prohibits such a presumption. Thus, the sentence was procedurally unreasonable.

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