Monday, April 30, 2012
In United States v. VandeBrake, (opinion- Download 111390P) the Eighth Circuit in a 2-1 opinion affirmed a 48-month sentence in an anti-trust case. The trial court had "varied upward from the advisory guidelines range based primarily upon VandeBrake's lack of remorse and the court's policy disagreement with United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual (U.S.S.G.) § 2R1.1." The trial court rejected, after giving notice to the parties, a binding plea agreement which called for a sentence of 19 months. Defendant-appellant argued that imposing "the longest sentence ever imposed in an antitrust case" was unwarranted here in comparison to the other case that received this same high sentence. The Appellate court affirmed the decision, but there's a concurring opinion and also a dissent.
The concurring opinion "disassociate[s itself] from the district court's comments about economic success and status, race, heritage, and religion." Chief Judge Riley writes - "I consider those comments inappropriate and not a proper reason for supporting any sentence."
The dissent by Circuit Judge Beam states in the opening paragraph - "even a multi-millionaire businessman has the right to be sentenced under the rule of law, especially rules recently put in place by the Supreme Court. Rich persons, poor persons and persons at all other economic strata should expect no less." The dissent states "the sentencing court's bald assumption that it has deferential discretion to substantially vary from all guidelines on policy grounds is reversible error." Judge Beam states:
"My research reveals that there were only a few hundred offenders sentenced for committing antitrust violations between FYs 1996 and 2011. The statistics also demonstrate that, over a period of 15 years, VandeBrake was the only antitrust offender sentenced above the guidelines range. Indeed, out of some 230 offenders The preliminary data for FY 2011 indicates that one antitrust offender was sentenced above the guidelines via an upward variance. Since VandeBrake was sentenced under § 2R1.1 since FY 1997, 83 were sentenced within the guidelines range and 146 were sentenced below the guidelines range. Similarly, since FY 1996, of the 288 offenders sentenced with an antitrust violation being the "primary offense," 95 were sentenced within the guidelines range and 192 were sentenced below the guidelines range." (Footnotes omitted)
Will DOJ join defense counsel on the same side in sending this case higher? They should. As noted here, Professor Berman looks at another white collar case with a high sentence. He states "I would bet a whole lot of money that on appeal federal prosecutors will defend this extremely long white-collar sentence as reasonable even though it surely does appear out of line with the sentences given to similar defendants convicted of similar crimes." As "ministers of justice" DOJ should support the defense if they are to continue their argument that sentences in white collar cases should remain within the guidelines.