Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reasonableness Presumption for Guidelines Sentences Upheld

The Supreme Court upheld the appellate presumption of the reasonableness of a sentence falling within the parameters of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in Rita v. United States (available here).  The majority opinion by Justice Breyer states, "[T]he presumption reflects the fact that, by the time an appeals court is considering a within-Guidelines sentence on review, both the sentencing judge and the Sentencing Commission will have reached the same conclusion as to the proper sentence in the particular case. That double determination significantly increases the likelihood that the sentence is a reasonable one." (Italics in original)  Rita involved a perjury conviction, and the defendant received a 33-month sentence, which was at the bottom of the Guidelines range.  The decision upholds the preeminence of the Sentencing Guidelines in federal cases, which means that the loss calculations in Sec. 2B1.1 for fraud cases will continue to have a significant, and perhaps even inordinate, impact on sentences in a wide range of white collar crime prosecutions.  For prominent defendants awaiting sentencing, such as former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, or those challenging their sentences, such as former senior Cheney aide I. Lewis Libby and former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, there is one less issue to raise on appeal because their sentences fell within the general confines of the Guidelines.  For the best coverage of the Rita decision and its impact on sentencing, please check Prof. Doug Berman's Sentencing Law & Policy blog (here). (ph)

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