1st Circuit "on a tear"...

Three Sentencing Reversals in One Day

Yes, on August 16, 2021, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston went "on a tear" .... tearing up the sentences imposed by lower court judges in three different cases.

These decisions illustrate a huge difference between sentencing in New Hampshire state courts, versus sentencing in a federal court, such as the United States District Court - District of New Hampshire. In State courts, there is hardly any law. The judge simply uses her discretion to craft a sentence that balances four important and often conflicting goals: Rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence (of the public generally), specific deterrence (deterring this specific individual).

In federal court, there is a whole book of "advisory" guidelines which are sort of like laws, except that the Judge doesn't have to follow the guidelines; and tens of thousands of court decisions interpreting those guidelines. These three appellate decisions, like most sentencing appeals in federal court, involve interpretation of those guidelines.

The three cases

In U.S. v. Patch, 2021 WL 3615870 , the Court held that the evidence was not sufficient to show that the defendant "maintained" a premises for purpose of drug distribution, but it did show that the defendant allowed use of the premises by others.

In U.S. v. Garcia-Perez, the court found procedural error where the district court failed to provide an adequate explanation for an upward "variance." A variance is a sentence outside of the advisory guideline range, either below it, or as in this case, above the range.

In U.S. v. Carrasquillo-Sanchez, the court vacated a sentence for the same reason as in Garcia-Perez.

Federal Sentencing Cases Involve More Work

As these decisions illustrate, defending a client during the federal sentencing process tends to involve more work, and cost more in legal fees, than in state court. It is common to do hours of legal research and legal writing in an effort to get a client to a lower guideline level. Even though the guidelines are "advisory", meaning not mandatory, it is still helpful to get to a lower guideline and in a sense, provide a lower "baseline" for the court's decision.