Sentencing Potpourri

United States v. Chychula | 12-3695

August 2014

In United States v. Chychula, No. 12-3695, the Court reminded litigants and district courts that when an obstruction of justice enhancement is applied (USSG §3C1.1) based on a defendant’s perjurious statements, the district court “should make a finding as to all the factual predicates necessary for a finding of perjury: false testimony, materiality, and willful intent.” Failure to do so is error (although in this case, the failure was harmless).

Any parent forced to explain to a child when an arbitrary or otherwise unexplainable rule is being imposed is familiar with this retort: “because I said so.” Whether that is sufficient in your home depends on your kids, but in United States v. Spann, No. 14-1013, the Court made clear that “because I said so,” is not a sufficient explanation for a district court’s sentencing decision. In Spann, the district court sentenced Spann to 97 months, the high-end of the advisory guideline range. The district court’s reasons for the high-end sentence were “terse,” and did not distinguish Spann from other heroin dealers. After imposing sentence, defense counsel asked an “ingenious” question (per Judge Posner) – “[W]hat I hear the Court say is that the offense is serious because of heroin. I’m curious why the high end rather than the low end.” The sentencing judge, “startled by the question,” ended the discussion by stating, “I don’t intend to engage in a debate with you today about the sentence I imposed . . . If you are not satisfied you may take an appeal – the judicial equivalent of “because I said so”. Finding the 97-month sentence as “unexplained,” the Seventh Circuit remanded the case for resentencing.