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Judges need more details on reduction denial

January 1, 2009
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is sending the denial of a defendant's motion for a sentence reduction back to the District Court because the Circuit Court needs more than the one-sentence explanation given by the lower court.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry J. McKinney of the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, denied Kelvin Marion's motion to reduce his sentence under Section 3582(c)(2) on a form order that simply said "As directed by 18 U.S.C. § 3581(c)(2) the Court has considered the relevant factors in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and determined a sentence reduction is not appropriate."

In United States of America v. Kelvin Marion, No. 09-2525, the Circuit judges found the lower court's written analysis to be too terse to allow for a meaningful review on appeal. Marion pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base and was sentenced to 160 months in 2000. He moved under Section 3582(c)(2) to reduce his sentence, which the District Court denied with the one-sentence explanation.

A District Court doesn't need to provide a detailed, written explanation analyzing every factor, but it must provide some statement of its reasoning for the Circuit Court to meaningfully review the lower court's decision, wrote Judge Michael S. Kanne.

The Circuit judges believed a District Court's order on a motion for sentence reduction should at least address briefly any significant events that may have happened since the original sentencing.

"If the district court believes that nothing particularly noteworthy has changed concerning the basis for the defendant's original sentence, some simple explanation to that effect will apprise both the defendant and this court of that fact," wrote the judge.

Judge Kanne cautioned that the Circuit Court's ruling in the instant case shouldn't be read to expand what is required of a District Court when sentencing a defendant or considering a motion to reduce a sentence under Section 3582(c)(2). There's nothing wrong with using a form order or having only a one-sentence explanation. But it's impossible for the Circuit Court to ensure the lower court didn't abuse its discretion if the order only shows the District Court exercised its discretion rather than showing how it exercised that discretion, he wrote.
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