Monday, March 24th, 2008

About Face!

United States v. Dominguez, No. 05-7005-cr (2d Cir. February 15, 2008, amended March 20, 2008) (Miner, Sack, Hall, CJJ)

Last month, when we wrote up this case, we noted with alarm the circuit’s holding that, for cases where the defendant faced a mandatory minimum but provided substantial assistance to the government, under § 3553(e) “any reduction [in sentence] may be based only on substantial assistance to the government and on no other mitigating considerations.” We commented that this did “not really make much sense,” since it seemed to preclude application of § 3553(a) at this type of sentencing, even though that statute is supposed to apply in all sentencings. See The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away, posted February 24, 2008.

I guess the circuit reads this blog. In the amended version of the opinion, it has added the following sentence at the end of the paragraph that contains the worrisome language quoted above: “In arriving at a final sentence, of course, the district court may consider other factors in determining whether to grant the full extent of the departure permitted by § 3553(e).” Slip op. at 15.

That’s more like it. Although still not a model of clarity (since the first sentence of the relevant paragraph is still wrong, see slip op. p 14-15), the decision now more accurately reflects a correct sentencing procedure. The amended version can be fairly construed to hold that substantial assistance is the only thing the district court can consider in deciding whether to depart in 3553(e) cases, but other mitigating factors can be considered in determining the extent of the departure.

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