7th Circuit upholds precedent but asks for further guidance from U.S. Sentencing Commission

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Although a gun buyer had his sentence affirmed, his argument for reduced time has caused the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to call upon the Sentencing Commission to clarify a section of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

The case, United States of America v. Tristan Davis, 12-3552, was appealed from the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division.

Davis pleaded guilty to two counts of lying to gun dealers and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. His offense level, and possibly his sentence, would have been lower if the District judge had given him a three-level reduction for accepting responsibility by pleading guilty. However, the prosecutor declined to move for the subtraction of a third level under U.S.S.G. 3E1.1(b) because Davis refused to waive his right to appeal.  

Davis contended that a motion from the prosecutor is mandatory whenever the defendant pleads guilty early enough and spares the prosecutor the burden of trial preparation.

In United States v. Deberry, 576 F.3d 708 (7th Cir. 2009), the court rejected that 3E1.1(b) requires a prosecutor to file a motion, noting the statute confers an entitlement on the prosecutor, not on the defendant.

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, in his opinion for Davis, noted the courts of appeals are divided on this issue. While a majority has reached the same conclusion as Deberry, two have sided with Davis’s contention that a court may direct the prosecutor to file a motion even if the prosecutor’s reason for withholding that motion does not violate the Constitution.

“This circuit could not eliminate the conflict by changing sides, so stare decisis supports standing pat,” Easterbrook wrote. “Resolution of this conflict is the province of the Supreme Court or the Sentencing Commission.”

Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote a concurring opinion, also calling upon the Sentencing Commission to give further guidance.

However, she explained she does not believe that section 3E1.1(b) permits the government to insist that a defendant waive his appellate rights before it will ask the court to grant him an addition one-level decrease in his offense level for acceptance of responsibility.

Rovner noted sentencing judges can err when imposing sentences and these errors are rarely attributable to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant has a right to be sentenced accurately and fairly. Nothing in section 3E1.1(b), she continued, requires the defendant to accept responsibility for the court’s errors as well as his own.



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