United States v. Cavera, Docket Nos. 05-4591-cr(L), 05-5210(CON) (2d Cir. Oct. 11, 2007)
The district court imposed a non-Guidelines sentence higher than that called for by the Guidelines for a multiple-count weapons conviction based on Section 3553(a)(2) (which directs the district court to consider the seriousness of the offense and the need for deterrence). It reasoned that the seriousness of the offense and the need for deterrence in an urban environment like New York City required a heavier sentence. Cavera appealed, and the Government conceded the sentencing error. But that doesn't mean that the Second Circuit didn't take the case seriously. Rather, it appointed amicus curiae counsel to brief the position taken by the district court and then issued a twenty page opinion. Seems to me that the Second Circuit wanted to make a point: Booker is not about individualized sentencing.
And what did the Second Circuit say? Here are a few choice snippets:
1. The district court's "demographics-based approach to sentencing [ran] contrary to one of the primary purposes of the Guidelines: to diminish sentencing disparity. . . Put differently, the Guidelines aim to eliminate disparities in sentences meted out by different district courts to defendants who commit similar offenses."
2. It "seems plain that the district court's formulaic approach threatens to undermine a primary purpose of the Guidelines. The trial court's reasoning would result in a return to disparate sentences across districts where courts fashion sentences, not on facts unique to defendants' conduct or circumstances, but solely on the urban or rural character of each court's geographic jurisdiction."
3. We "hold simply that the district court erred in its analysis under factor (a)(2) by sentencing Cavera on the basis of a policy judgment concerning the gravity of firearms smuggling into a heavily populated area, like New York City, rather than on circumstances particular to the individual defendant and his crime. The district court's approach effectively defines a separate crime -- gun trafficking in urban environments -- and fixes an above-Guidelines penalty for that crime. We have cautioned the district courts against misapplying their sentencing authority to make policy decisions relating to an entire class of offenses." Think crack-powder disparity . . .
4. "We acknowledge the courts have not drawn a neat line separating proper judicial consideration of a defendant and his crime from impermissible policy judgment concerning a genre of offenses, and examples may be found that blur the distinction. But the logic underlying Cavera's sentence presents no such challenge." Simply put, the district court went too far.
5. "That the district court improperly injected its policy views into Cavera's sentence is clear to us, not because its rationale applies to other offenses in the stated genre, but because its rationale depends on characteristics of that genre to determine the gravity of this defendant's crime.