Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

District Court’s Task Is Not to Impose a “Reasonable” Sentence

United States v. Williams, Docket Nos. 05-4928-cr (L) & 05-4956-cr (2d Cir. Jan. 30, 2007) (Winter, Cabranes, Korman): The only item worth noting in this opinion, in which both defendants appeal the district court’s refusal to resentence them following a Crosby remand, is the Circuit’s reminder to district judges that their task at sentencing is not to impose a “reasonable” sentence, but rather a sentence that (1) takes into account all the § 3553(a) factors, and (2) is no greater than necessary to promote the ends of sentencing. Op. 12. As the Court states in a quotable line, “district courts are to impose sentences pursuant to the requirements of § 3553(a) — including the requirements of § 3553(a)’s parsimony clause — while appellate courts are to review the sentences actually imposed by district courts for reasonableness.” Id. Reminding district courts of this distinction may not make a difference in most cases, but it can’t hurt.

Here, the district court refused to resentence the defendants after concluding that it would impose the same sentences under the advisory Guidelines regime established in Booker. However, the court then mistakenly described its sentencing duty as “impos[ing] a reasonable sentence after considering all the factors listed in § 3553(a).” Op. 6. The Circuit says tsk-tsk to this imprecise oration — quoting with approval a 6th Circuit case explaining that “a district court’s job is not to impose a ‘reasonable’ sentence . . . but . . . a ‘sentence sufficient but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes’ of section 3553(a)(2). Reasonableness is the appellate standard of review in judging whether a district court has accomplished its task.” Op. 12 (emphasis in original) (quoting United States v. Foreman, 436 F.3d 638, 644 n.1 (6th Cir. 2006)).

The Court nonetheless affirms the defendants’ sentences, concluding that it was clear from the record that the district court had in fact considered all the § 3553(a) factors, including the parsimony command, and had stated unequivocally that it would impose the same sentence under the advisory Guidelines regime. Op. 12-13. Because “there is no indication in the record that the District Court’s reference to its duty to impose a sentence that was ‘reasonable’ affected in any way its assessment of whether resentencing [] was warranted,” the Court concludes, “a second remand pursuant to Crosby . . . would not achieve any different result.” Op. 13.

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