30-Day Sentence for Assault on Senator Rand Paul was Substantively Unreasonable
Senator Rand Paul was doing yard work at his home when he was attacked from behind by his next-door neighbor, Rene Boucher. Senator Paul sustained six broken ribs which “caused long-lasting damage to his lung, and led to several bouts of pneumonia.”
Mr. Boucher pleaded guilty to assaulting a member of Congress in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 351(e) and while he admitted tackling the Senator, he denied that he did so for political reasons. He told the police that the assault stemmed from “a property dispute that finally boiled over.”
Mr. Boucher’s guidelines range was 21 to 27 months but he was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. The government appealed and argued that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. In United States v. Boucher, the Sixth Circuit agreed, vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
The Sixth Circuit noted that the district court’s rationale for imposing a 30 day sentence “rested primarily on two observations.” The first was that the confrontation was “strictly a dispute between neighbors.” The second was Mr. Boucher’s “excellent background.”
The Sixth Circuit’s opinion provides a thorough discussion of substantive reasonableness analysis and role that the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors play in it. The court applied a familiar principle in resolving this case – the more a district court varies above or below the guidelines, the more compelling the justification must be.
The district court’s analysis was found to be flawed for several reasons. It did not adequately explain why the 30-day sentence was appropriate given the severity of the Senator’s injuries. Although the assault may not have been politically motivated, the Senator’s “status as a national political figure is still relevant to the broader ‘goals of societal deterrence’” because § 351(e)’s objective is to protect elected representatives from harm. But here the district court offered no explanation why that objective did not warrant a within guidelines sentence.
The district court described Mr. Boucher as “a 60 year old highly educated medical doctor, Army veteran, father, church member, and good standing community member with no criminal history.” But, as the Sixth Circuit pointed out, those factors (with the exception of military service) are disfavored as reasons for a below guidelines sentence and the district court failed to explain “what unusual circumstances justified relying on them” in this case.
The last factor to consider was unwarranted disparities. Although the district court did not state that it used Kentucky law as a reference to determine Mr. Boucher’s sentence, the Sixth Circuit reiterated that “it is impermissible for a district court to consider the defendant’s likely state court sentence as a factor in determining his federal sentence.” The only relevant disparities “are those among federal defendants on a national scale” and while cases under § 351(e) were considered, the “more telling comparators are in cases drawn from other federal assault statutes.” The Sentencing Commission’s national sentencing data is also an important factor in avoiding unwarranted sentence disparities. The district court in Mr. Boucher’s case, however, did not address the risk of sentence disparities.
Because Mr. Boucher’s case was a “mine-run case,” the Sixth Circuit applied “closer review” to the variance from the guidelines and it found “no compelling justification” for his “well-below Guidelines sentence.” The Sixth Circuit acknowledged, however, that Mr. Boucher “may or may not be entitled to a downward variance after the district court reweighs the relevant § 3553(a) factors, and it is the district court’s right to make that decision in the first instance.”