Thursday, May 4th, 2006

The Circuit Is a Thorn in the Defendant’s Side, but Booker May Come to His Rescue

United States v. Thorn, Docket No. 03-1602(L) (2d Cir. April 27, 2006) (Jacobs, Sotomayor, Hall): A very bad day for Mr. Thorn. In this opinion, involving an appeal by Thorn and a cross-appeal by the Government following a resentencing in the wake of an earlier Circuit decision in the same case, United States v. Thorn, 317 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 2003), the Circuit (1) rejects all of Thorn’s challenges to his sentence on the ground that they are either barred by the law of the case doctrine (because they are foreclosed by the earlier decision) or waived because he failed to raise them at the initial sentencing, and (2) accepts all of the Government’s arguments — that the district judge on remand erred in (a) failing to impose an abuse-of-trust enhancement and (b) departing downwardly because Thorn’s conduct was (allegedly) not within the heartland of money laundering offenses and because Criminal History Category II (allegedly) significantly overstated the seriousness of his criminal past. None of the issues appears to break new ground.

On a first look, this decision is terrible news for Thorn. His initial sentence of 65 months was already increased to 168 months by the district judge on remand in light of Thorn I. And on remand following this decision (Thorn II), his Guidelines range will be even higher (though the opinion does not indicate just how much higher).

However, Booker may come to Thorn’s rescue. Because even the resentencing occurred before Booker, the district judge, though forced by Thorn II to use a much higher Guidelines range than it prefers, will have discretion on remand to impose a non-Guidelines sentence that achieves the same result it earlier achieved through (what some may consider) a manipulation of the Guidelines. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that this district judge does not believe that Thorn — whose misconduct consists of Clean Air Act violations involving the disposal of asbestos — truly deserved even a 168 month sentence and will likely impose a lower non-Guidelines sentence on remand. And if that happens, we can hardly wait for Thorn III!

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