Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sauce For The Goose: Seventh Circuit Affirms Upward Variance In Embezzlement Case

Last Friday, in United States v. Brown, the Seventh Circuit upheld an upward variance from the calculated U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range of 21-27 months to 60 months. Appellant, the office manager, bookkeeper, and accountant for a small family business, embezzled several hundred thousand dollars over a twenty year period.

"Before imposing sentence the district court thoroughly
examined the sentencing factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a),
placing special emphasis on the sophisticated nature of
Brown’s embezzlement scheme, its long duration, and the deep
breach of trust that his conduct entailed. The judge accepted
the results of the Walker family’s internal audit and explained
that the loss—more than $600,000—was significant for a small

Like so many appellate decisions affirming upward variances, the Brown opinion has wonderful language describing the sentencing court's broad discretion to impose sentences outside the recommended Guidelines range. The federal criminal defense bar has reaped enormous rewards from the post-Gall/Kimbrough deference to district court sentencing determinations, but with these gains come occasional losses. The Brown affirmance is a good example of the latter phenomenon.

After the sentencing hearing, in conjunction with a technical amendment to the judgment, the district court entered a written Statement of Reasons that purported to upwardly adjust the Guidelines range to 41-51 months. The 60 month sentence remained unchanged. The Seventh Circuit treated this Statement of Reasons as a nullity, since Brown had already filed a notice of appeal, stripping the district court of jurisdiction, and since the written Statement of Reasons was so clearly at odds with the district court's oral pronouncements during sentencing. This odd procedural move by the sentencing court appears to have been an after-the-fact effort to bolster its upward variance. The Seventh Circuit made clear, between the lines, that such gyrations are unnecessary.


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