ILNews

Court: 'mistakes' in judge's sentence

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence of man convicted of defrauding Medicaid because the District Court judge's sentencing transcript was "laced with apparent mistakes and misunderstandings."

In United States of America v. William J. Higdon, No. 07-3951, William Higdon appealed his 60-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Richard Young of the Southern District, Evansville Division. Higdon pleaded guilty to defrauding the Indiana Medicaid program, and the judge and parties agreed the sentencing guideline was 18 to 24 months. However, Judge Young sentenced Higdon to 60 months.

After reviewing the judge's sentencing transcript, the 7th Circuit found it to be filled with "mistakes and misunderstandings" that caused him to sentence Higdon to a prison term nearly three times the length of the midpoint of the sentencing guidelines, wrote Judge Richard Posner.

A sentencing judge is allowed to have his or her own penal philosophy at variance with that of the Sentencing Commission; however, a judge must think long and hard before substituting his or her own personal penal philosophy for that of the commission's, Judge Posner wrote.

According to the sentencing transcript, the federal appellate judges listed nine points in which they feel the judge may have made a mistake: from the judge apparently believing Medicaid fraud is more serious than other fraud because it is against the government to Judge Young's belief that Higdon would benefit from a long prison sentence so he could take advantage of educational and vocational training.

Six of the nine mistakes or misunderstandings the 7th Circuit identified seem unrelated to a legitimate philosophical difference between the judge and the Sentencing Commission. Three of the mistakes or omissions could reflect Judge Young's penal philosophy that differs from the commission, which is permitted, Judge Posner wrote.

The 7th Circuit had to rely on the transcript of Judge Young's oral remarks for the appeal, which caused the Circuit Court to suggest that judges who decide to impose an out-of-guideline sentence express their reasons in writing.

"The discipline of committing one's thoughts to paper not only promotes thoughtful consideration but also creates a surer path of communication with the reviewing court," Judge Posner wrote.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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