Brief Fact Summary. Defendant, after being convicted of bribery, received a reduced sentence based on the fact that she faced extraordinary parental responsibilities.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A reduced sentence may be warranted where extraordinary family circumstances exist, such as here where the defendant is a single parent and the sole supporter of three young children.
Issue. Can a defendant’s extraordinary family circumstances justify a downward departure in sentencing?
Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
While the defendant’s family circumstances do not decrease her culpability, based on the special circumstances of the defendant’s family, the imposition of a greater sentence would create a significant hardship on her children, justifying the departure.
Congress, in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 provided that a district court may depart from sentencing guidelines in situations not “adequately taken into consideration by the Sentencing Commission”. In this case, the Court of Appeals notes that very nature of extraordinary circumstances renders them incapable of adequate consideration and therefore, while family responsibilities are not ordinarily relevant in sentence reduction, extraordinary family circumstances may be taken into account.
Discussion. This case illustrates one of the complexities that arise under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, under which Congress created a United States Sentencing Commission in order to establish sentencing guidelines for federal judges. These guidelines established a narrow range of authorized sentences that judges normally must impose. While the goal was to reduce unwarranted disparities in sentencing, these guidelines raise several concerns based on their rigidity including the concern that they create new kinds of disparity. For example, in this case Johnson’s co-defendant received a significantly more severe sentence based on the same conviction.