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Judges to use discretion – not checklists – when imposing sentences, 7th Circuit rules

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A defendant’s contention that the District Court should have considered all the mitigating factors during his sentencing was characterized by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals as turning sentencing discussions into “checklist exercises.”

Larry Hodge pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 115 years for multiple child pornography offenses by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division. During his sentencing hearing, Hodge offered testimony of a psychiatrist who asserted Hodge’s criminal actions could be linked to the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and that he was unlikely to reoffend.

One month after being sentenced, Hodge appealed. He argued the District Court committed a procedural error because it did not comment on the psychiatrist’s conclusions about Hodge’s premature sexualization and potential for rehabilitation.

However, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. In United States of America v. Larry F. Hodge, 12-2458, it affirmed the sentence.

The 7th Circuit held the District Court met the standard of addressing the principal, nonfrivolous arguments in mitigation. The lower court concluded the most noteworthy aspects of the psychiatrist’s testimony for mitigation purposes were his statements regarding Hodge’s pornography addiction, childhood abuse and exposure to pornography at a young age. The decision not discuss other findings of the psychiatrist did not constitute a procedural error.

“Hodge’s favored approach would turn sentencing courts’ discussions of the (U.S.C.) 3553(a) factors into checklist exercises, depriving judges of their discretion in sifting through large amounts of evidence to determine which items are most relevant,” Judge John Tinder wrote for the court.  
 

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