Friday, August 25th, 2006

Circuit Gilds the Lily: Sentence within Guidelines Range Not Unreasonable Simply Because Judge Refused to Account for 100:1 Disparity in Crack Case

United States v. Park, Docket No. 05-6158-cr (2d Cir. Aug. 25, 2006) (Cabranes, Straub, Hall): We’re not sure why the Circuit felt the need to publish this opinion in light of Castillo, but what’s a few more trees felled for the cause of justice? In Castillo, the Circuit held that “a non-Guidelines sentence imposed simply because a district court disagreed with the 100:1 ration [is] unreasonable.” Op. 7. Here, the Court confronts “the related question of whether the imposition of a Guidelines sentence for a crack offense is per se unreasonable as a result of the 100:1 ratio,” where the Guidelines range was determined by the fact that crack (as opposed to power) was involved and where the judge imposed a sentence within that range. Id.

And the answer should be obvious in light of Castillo (indeed, one would think that the answer follows necessarily from Castillo, rendering this opinion pointless): “Just as it would be error for a sentencing judge to impose a non-Guidelines sentence of the basis of a disagreement with Congress’s policy judgment regarding the 100:1 ratio [citing Castillo], it is not per se error for a sentencing judge to adhere to that policy judgment by imposing the sentence recommended by the Guidelines. We therefore hold, for the reasons set forth in Castillo, that imposition of a Guidelines sentence in a case involving a crack offense does not yield a sentence that is unreasonable merely because the Guidelines adhere to the 100:1 ratio that Congress . . . has seen fit to adopt.” Op. 7-8.

As in Castillo, finally, the Circuit recognized that a defendant can seek a non-Guidelines sentence “in light of the specific circumstances of his case.” Op.8. However, the mere fact that Park acted as an intermediary between the seller and the snitch buyer, along with the fact that it was the snitch who initiated the deals, was insufficient to render the sentence unreasonable. This was especially so because “the record makes clear that Park was fully aware of what substance was being sold and how much of it was at issue.” Id.

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