Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Application of Career Offender Guideline Senseless and Adds Nothing to Goals of Deterrence and Rehabilitation

This sentiment, however, was not shared by the majority of the panel.

In United States v. Smith, No. 07–5377 (6th Cir. Dec. 2, 2008), the panel of Chief Judge Boggs and Circuit Judges Merritt (pictured) and Griffin considered two issues: 1) denial of a motion to suppress evidence, and 2) reasonableness of a sentence based on application of the career-offender guideline. The panel affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion and the 240-month sentence.

Facts: Because of the cooperation of two confidential sources, police made a pretextual traffic stop of Mr. Smith. After stop, police officer had enough information to establish probable cause to arrest Mr. Smith.

Officer transported Mr. Smith to police post. Warrant for search of Mr. Smith’s person and the vehicle was issued. 34 grams of crack were found on Mr. Smith’s person.

Mr. Smith had three prior sentences—all three had been imposed on the same day, but one of the underlying offenses was separated from the other two by an intervening arrest.

Procedural History: Mr. Smith was indicted. Motion to suppress evidence denied. Mr. Smith pleaded guilty. Court sentenced Mr. Smith to 240 months (career offender—range of 292 to 365 months).

Major Points in Majority Opinion:
District court found search-warrant affidavit did not establish probable cause, but Leon good-faith exception saved the evidence from suppression. Also found that officers had probable cause to arrest Smith and could search him incident to arrest.
2) Majority held that there was probable cause to arrest Smith, that the officers did arrest Smith when they handcuffed him and took him to the post, and that the search was lawful, as it was incident to the arrest. Did not get to Leon. Search incident to arrest need not take place at site of arrest. Substantial time may elapse between arrest and search.
3) Fact that officers made effort to get warrant does not impact lawfulness of search. The fact of the lawful arrest validates the search.
4) Sentencing—prior sentences imposed on the same day are separate and unrelated if the offenses underlying the sentences were separated by an intervening arrest.

Interesting Dissent by Judge Merritt:
1) Current version of Guidelines (not those in force at time of offense or sentencing) should apply.
2) Current Section 4A1.2(a)—last sentence of this section says to count any prior sentence covered by (A) or (B) as a single sentence. Clause B addresses sentences imposed on the same day. So, the sentences should be counted as a single sentence. (Ignores the intervening-arrest language. Sees contradiction in language that creates ambiguity, so Rule of Lenity requires Mr. Smith to get the benefit of the doubt.)
3) "[N]o sentencing principle, purpose or goal of punishment is given for this ultra-severe sentence." The "sentence senselessly adds 10 more years of costs to the federal taxpayer and adds nothing to the goals of deterrence and rehabilitation."