On January 5, 2006, the Sixth Circuit decided to publish its recent unpublished decision in United States v. Williams, No. 04-4152 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 2005), published (Jan. 5, 2005) (opinion available here). This decision rejected a government appeal of a district court's (pre-Booker) four-level downward departure in a felon-in-possession case. Thanks to Professor Berman, we have some insightful commentary on this decision and its failings. Professor Berman's commentary is available here.
Despite its lack of clarity on a number of important sentencing issues, this opinion does have a potentially positive side. As noted by Professor Berman, "Williams does usefully reinforce the basic principle that district courts should thoroughly explain the bases for their sentencing determinations, especially when deciding not to follow the guidelines." For practitioners in the Sixth Circuit that have been subjected to District Court sentencing hearings where there has been a "ritualistic recitation" of the 18 U.S.C. §3553 factors with no analysis as to its application to the defendant, (which I suspect is a high number), this decision appears to strengthen the argument that a District Court must conduct a thorough analysis of the statutory factors and explain the reasons for their sentencing determinations. Perhaps now, with more encouragement from counsel, District Courts will issue findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect to each 18 U.S.C. §3553 factor when sentencing a defendant in the Sixth Circuit. As the Williams decision clearly illustrates, in such a case, the District Court's decision is likely to be affirmed.