August 15, 2008
A Reasonable Sentence
United States District Judge Frederic Block issued a sentencing opinion in the case of United States v. Parris that recognizes the importance of not using what he calls a "one-shoe-fits-all" (or should it be "one-size-fits-all") approach when sentencing individuals. As noted by Judge Block, the case involved "a rather typical 'pump and dump' scheme in the world of the high-risk penny-stock investor." Unfortunately, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that operates with a system that uses mere mathematical computations assesses the guideline sentence to be a "range of 360 to life." Judge Block aptly notes that "[t]his case represents another example where the guidelines in a securities-fraud prosecution 'have so run amok that they are patently absurd on their face' United States v. Adelson, ... due to the 'kind of "piling-on" points for which the guidelines have frequently been criticized." Instead of issuing the guideline sentence of 360 months to life, he enters a sentence of 60 months.
Judge Block notes that the "defendants have no prior criminal record." Most white collar offenders, like these defendants, fall within Category I. The judge provides an Exhibit that compares the sentences of individuals such as the Rigases, Skilling, Ebbers, and Bennett to those such as Adelson and others whose names are certainly less known by the public. Judge Block states, "although the Parrises' criminal conduct was reprehensible, they were simply not in the same league as the likes of the Enron, WorldCom and Computer Associates defendants."
This decision is important in that like the Adelson decision issued by Judge Rakoff (see discussion here), we are seeing a judge who is sentencing the individual defendant as opposed to merely applying a mathematical formula that has no relevance to the specific circumstances. (see also Podgor, The Challenge of White Collar Sentencing)
(esp) (w/ a special thanks to Whitney Curtis)
The decision - Download Parris.pdf
see also, Mark Fess, NYLaw Journal, Law.com, Criticizing Guidelines, Judge Gives Sentences 25 Years Less Than Recommended Minimum; New York Federal Practice Blog, EDNY Judge Block Imposes 60-month Sentences in Securities Fraud Case Instead of Guideline Sentences of 360 months to Life; Dan Slater, WSJ Blog, Judge Frederic Block: A Good Draw For Cioffi and Tannin?; Doug Berman's Sentencing law & Policy Blog, Important new white-collar opinion justifying below-guideline sentence
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