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Determining The Reasonableness Of A Sentence: Substantive And Procedural Reasonableness.


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U.S. v. Villafuerte

The Second Circuit Court Of Appeals

502 F.3d 204 (2007)

Decided: September 21, 2007

Summary: Defendant Villafuerte was indicted for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and conspiring to distribute over five hundred grams of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C §§ 84 (a)(1) and 846. The Presentence Report (PSR) calculated a sentencing range under the Guidelines for 70 to 87 months. Defendant argued for a below Guideline sentence and that his PSR recommended sentence was greater than necessary. The trial court adopted the PSR calculations and proposed sentence range and sentenced defendant to 70 months in prison, defendant appealed.: What are the factors that determine reasonableness for a sentence under the United States Sentencing Guidelines under 18 U.S.C§3553(a)

Issue: What are the factors that determine reasonableness for a sentence under the United States Sentencing Guidelines under 18 U.S.C§3553(a)

See Also: Right To Counsel And Lineup Identifications

Holding: On appeal the Second Circuit reviews the district court’s sentence for both substantive and procedural reasonableness. Substantive reasonableness involves the length of the sentence imposed in light of the factors enumerated under 18 USC 3553(a) and procedural reasonableness concerns the procedures a district court employs arriving at a sentence. The Second Circuit held that to determine a procedurally reasonable sentence, the Court must (1) normally determine the applicable Guidelines range, (2) consider the Guidelines along with the other factors under §3553(a), and (3) determine whether to impose a Guidelines sentence or a non-Guidelines sentence.

Facts: Defendant Villafuerte was indicted for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and conspiring to distribute over five hundred grams of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C §§ 84 (a)(1) and 846. Defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced. The Presentence Report (PSR) calculated a sentencing range under the Guidelines for 70 to 87 months. Defendant argued for a below guidelines sentence based upon several factors. Subsequently, Defendant was sentenced to 70 months and appealed.

Legal Analysis: On appeal the Second Circuit reviews the district court’s sentence for both substantive and procedural reasonableness. Substantive reasonableness involves the length of the sentence imposed in light of the factors enumerated under 18 USC 3553(a) and procedural reasonableness concerns the procedures a district court employs arriving at a sentence. The Second Circuit held that to determine a procedurally reasonable sentence, the Court must (1) normally determine the applicable Guidelines range, (2) consider the Guidelines along with the other factors under §3553(a), and (3) determine whether to impose a Guidelines sentence or a non-Guidelines sentence. Villafuerte’s failure to object below is fatal to this claim of error.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that 18 U.S.C §3553(a) requires the District Court to consider

a)    the nature and circumstances of the offense, and the history and characteristics of defendant

b)   the need for the sentence imposed

c)    to reflect the seriousness of the offense; promote respect to the law, provide punishment for the offense

d)   to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct.

e)    Provide Defendant with educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner

f)     The kinds of sentence available

g)    The kinds of sentence established and recommended by the U.S State Sentencing Guidelines

h)   Any pertinent policy statement issued by Sentencing Commission

i)     The need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among Defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct, and the need to provide restitution.

When the District Court imposes a Guidelines sentence, it does need to offer a lengthy explanation, particularly where the parties have not argued meaningfully against a Guidelines sentence under §3553(a) or for a departure. The Second Circuit held that the District Court does not need to address every argument the Defendant has made or to discuss every §3553(a) factor individually. The Second Circuit will not require ‘robotic incantations’ to satisfy the reasonableness requirement. The District Court was not mute at sentencing and it did offer reasons for rejecting Defendant Villaferute’s arguments. Accordingly, The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s conviction.


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