Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sentence Departure for Former Wal-Mart Executive Overturned

The Eighth Circuit, among the more parsimonious in allowing non-Guidelines sentences, reversed the sentence given to former Wal-Mart vice chairman Thomas Coughlin after his guilty plea for defrauding the company (United States v. Coughlin here).  Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the applicable range was 27 to 33 months imprisonment, but the district court sentenced him to 27 months of home confinement as part of five years of probation, a $50,000 fine and restitution of over $400,000.  The judge based the downward departure on two grounds: first, the defendants poor health; second, a combination of factors that included his prior good works, families ties, and the extreme fall from grace the conviction entailed.  Regarding Coughlin's health, the Eighth Circuit summarized his condition:

The record reflects Coughlin is six feet four inches tall and weighs about 330 pounds. Coughlin survived sudden cardiac death and has had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator since 2003. Coughlin presently suffers from cardiac arrhythmia, severe pulmonary hypertension, double vessel coronary atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, gout, ethmoid sinusitis, obesity, high blood pressure, severe allergies, and back and knee pain. Couglin also suffers from severe obstructive sleep apnea, which necessitates the use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine at night to prevent a dangerous drop in Coughlin’s oxygen levels.

Although the district court credited the testimony of Coughlin's physician that he would not receive adequate care in the federal prison system, the Eighth Circuit found an abuse of discretion because the basis for the departure was not supported by sufficient facts.  Moreover, the appellate court rejected the alternative grounds for the departure based on Coughlin's good works and the impact of the conviction.  Coughlin will have to be resentenced by the same judge, and it will be interesting to see if the court gives the same basic sentence based on stronger evidence of his medical condition that his attorneys present at the hearing. (ph) 

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