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Gall v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was previously involved in a drug operation, before graduating college. When Defendant graduated college, Defendant moved to Arizona. At Arizona, federal agents began to question Defendant about his involvement in the drug operation. Defendant voluntarily turned himself into the State of Iowa authorities and pled guilty to the crime charged. At the sentencing hearing, the judge reviewed all the evidence and sentenced Defendant to a term of thirty-six month of probation. The Government appealed the sentencing decision, and the court of appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. Defendant petitions for the United States Supreme Court to review the court of appeal’s decision. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The appellate standard of review for a district court’s sentencing decision is deferential abuse of discretion.

    Facts.

    Gall, Defendant, in his sophomore year of college, participated in a drug distribution operation for about six month. During this time, Defendant told one of his co-conspirators that he no longer wanted to be involved in the operation. Once Defendant graduated, Defendant moved to Arizona and began his career in the construction industry. Subsequently, federal agents questioned Defendant about is involvement in the drug operation. Defendant told the federal agents that he was limitedly involved in the operation. The federal agents continued to question Defendant for a period of about a year and a half. After the questioning, Defendant was indicted, and Defendant voluntarily turned himself into to the State of Iowa authorities. When Defendant was pending bail, Defendant began his own construction business in Iowa. Thereafter, Defendant entered into a plea agreement and a sentencing hearing followed. Pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Defendant’s charge had a thirty-month sentence, at a minimum. The sentencing judge reviewed all the evidence and imposed a sentence of thirty-six month probation. The Government appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. The Defendant petitions the United States Supreme Court to review the court of appeals decision. 

    Issue.

    Whether the appellate standard of review for a district court’s sentencing decision is deferential abuse of discretion.

    Held.

    Yes, the appellate standard of review for a district court’s sentencing decision is deferential abuse of discretion.

    Dissent.

    The district court violated the federal guidelines when it departed from the guidelines listed.

    The district court must give weight to the federal sentencing guidelines. Since the district court did not due so, the district court abused its discretion. Also, the court of appeals was not applying a de novo standard of review, but a Booker standard of review, which it did so property.

    Concurrence.

    Congress needs to fix the mandatory sentencing guidelines by requiring that a sentenced be founded on facts, which were presented to a jury.

    A substantive reasonableness standard will create a Sixth Amendment conflict indistinguishable from those resulting from the mandatory sentencing scheme. Yet, I believe the abuse of discretion standard will result in less unconstitutional sentences than the proportionality test the appellate court offers.

    Discussion.

    The appropriate standard for appellate review of a district court sentencing decision is a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. In this case, the court of appeals relied heavily on its previous decision, which stood for the principle that if there is a significant departure from the federal sentencing guidelines, the sentence is improper. United States v. Claiborne, 439 F.3d 479 (8th Cir. 2006). However, the United States Supreme Court has previously held that an appellate court must review a sentencing decision solely based on an abuse of discretion standard, given the reasonableness of the district court’s ruling. United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). Thus, the district judge must give great evaluation to a substantial deviance from the federal guidelines, and such a deviance must be supported on the record by the judge, after a full consideration of all the facts presented. Thereafter, the appellate court may review the sentencing decision by considering the degree of deviance from the federal guidelines. Regardless of whether the resulting sentence falls above or below the federal guidelines, the appellate court’s task on appeal is always an abuse of discretion standard. Also, the appellate court may give the district court a presumption of reasonableness in the sentencing verdict, however, the appellate court is not required to do so. Nevertheless, if the sentencing verdict falls outside the federal guidelines, a presumption of reasonableness cannot be given. Here, the district judge properly evaluated all the evidence presented. The appellate court in this case is engaging in a de novo review, as the court disagrees with the district court’s factual determinations. Because the court of appeals disagreed with the conclusion of the district court, based on the factual determinations, the court of appeals decisions is improper and is not grounds for a reversal of the sentencing decision, as the court was not following the proper standard of review. Therefore, the decision of the court of appeals is reversed.


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