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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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