Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Government’s Scattershot Implementation of Fast-Track Programs Does Not Create Unreasonable Sentences in Non-Fast-Track Districts

United States v. Mejia, Docket No. 05-3903-cr (2d Cir. Aug. 22, 2006) (Jacobs, Parker, Oberdorfer): In holding that a sentencing court has no authority to reconsider or reject the Guidelines’ 100:1 treatment of powder vs crack cocaine, the Circuit last week in Castillo specifically rejected the defendant’s argument that § 3553(a)(6) — instructing district courts to consider “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct” — permitted a sentencing court to impose a non-Guidelines sentence when it believed that a Guidelines sentence would produce an unwarranted disparity. The Court explained that “[w]hile the 100:1 ratio clearly produces a disparity, it is one that Congress has mandated [and] one that Congress has continually refused to alter . . . .” Op. 35-36.

More bad news today: In Mejia, litigated by Deirdre von Dornum of this Office, the Court relies on similar reasoning in “holding that a district court’s refusal to adjust a sentence to compensate for the absence of a fast-track program does not make a sentence unreasonable.” Op. 17. The Court specifically rejects the applicability of § 3553(a)(6) in the fast-track context with an explanation similar to that offered in Castillo: “Congress expressly approved of fast-track programs without mandating them; Congress thus necessarily decided that they do not create the unwarranted sentencing disparities that it prohibited in Section 3553(a)(6).” Op. 14.

The Court’s self-described holding is narrow — a sentence is not unreasonable simply because it is imposed in a non-fast-track district. But its statement rejecting the relevance of § 3553(a)(6) to the fast-track issue seems to signal a broader proposition — that a sentencing court simply may not consider the existence of fast-track programs in other districts when sentencing a defendant in a fast-track district.

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