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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rita: Presumption of Reasonableness for Guideline Sentences

In Rita v. U.S., No. 06-5754 (June 21, 2007), the Supreme Court held that a court of appeals may apply a presumption of reasonableness to a district court sentence within the Guidelines.
The Court noted that the presumption was not binding, and did not reflect judicial deference to the fact-finding leeway of an expert agency. Rather, it reflected the fact that the sentencing court’s analysis of the sentencing factors set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) corresponded to the similar analysis by the Sentencing Commission. The presumption only applies on appellate review. It does not apply when a district court determines the merits of arguments that a non-Guideline sentence ought to be applied.
The Court explained that the presumption would not violate the Sixth Amendment because it neither requires nor forbids a Guideline sentence.
Finally, the Court held that the district court properly analyzed the factors in Rita’s case. The Court stated that the brevity or length of what a district court had to say when pronouncing sentence was left to a judge’s own professional judgment. The judge may say less when imposing a Guideline sentence, and normally should go further when rejecting nonfrivolous arguments for a non-Guideline sentence.