The United States Supreme Court decision of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005) restored the Federal Disstrict Judge’s ability to fashion a sentence tailored to the unique circumstances of each case and each criminal defendant by requiring courts to consider factors other than the sentencing range prescribed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Thus, although the trial courts still must take the Sentencing Guidelines into account, Booker rendered the Sentencing Guidelines advisory.
Now in federal criminal cases in Maryland and across the country, the sentencing guideline range is no longer binding on the Court, but is only one of several factors to be considered in determining the sentence. The other factors the Court is directed to consider are: (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant; (2) the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to afford adequate deterrence, to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, and to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care or other correctional treatment; (3) the kinds of sentence available; (4) the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparity; and (5) the need to provide restitution.
In considering the § 3553(a) factors, the sentencing guidelines are to be given no more or less weight than any other factor. In addition, the Guidelines are not to be given any “presumption of reasonableness.”
Booker established a new, independent limit on the sentence that may be imposed. The primary sentencing mandate of § 3553(a) states that courts must impose the minimally-sufficient sentence to achieve the statutory purposes of punishment, i.e., justice, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. Indeed, under § 3553(a), courts are required to sentence below the range if such a sentence would be sufficient to achieve the purposes of punishment. This so-called “parsimony provision” is not simply a factor in determining sentence; it represents a cap above which the Court is statutorily prohibited from sentencing, even when a greater sentence is recommended by the sentencing guidelines.
Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected rules that require “extraordinary” circumstances to justify a sentence outside the Guidelines range or “the use of a rigid mathematical formula that uses the percentage of a departure as the standard for determining the strength of the justifications required for a specific sentence” since these approaches “come too close to creating an impermissible presumption of unreasonableness.”
The Fourth Circuit has prescribed the steps the District Court must follow in imposing a sentence. First, the Court should calculate the proper guideline range after making appropriate findings of fact. The Court should then consider all of the § 3553(a) factors to determine whether they support the requested sentence. If the guideline range does not serve the factors set forth in § 3553(a), then the Court may impose a non-guideline or “variance” sentence. The Court must articulate reasons for the sentence it imposes, particularly a variance sentence, by reference to the § 3553(a) factors and its factual findings.
The federal criminal defense lawyers of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White include several former Assistant United State’s Attorneys. For a complimentary consultation, please contact Andrew C. White or Steven D. Silverman.