Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week

seventh-circuit1With only one new opinion in a criminal case, there’s not much to choose from.  Unfortunately, United States v. Sainz-Preciado (No. 07-3706) was a fairly routine case that broke no new legal ground.  In its opinion, the Seventh Circuit (per Judge Tinder) affirmed the defendant’s 262-month sentence for cocaine trafficking over various objections to the way the guidelines sentence was calculated and imposed.

One aspect of the case merits at least brief comment.  The defendant was awarded only a two-point, not the possible three-point, reduction in offense level under the sentencing guidelines for “acceptance of responsibility.”  The third point requires a motion from the government, and the government did not make such a motion for Sainz-Preciado.  Normally, defendants who enter a timely guilty plea, as Sainz-Preciadio did, receive the full acceptance benefit.  However, Sainz-Preciado was penalized by the government for contesting his responsibility at the sentencing hearing for drug deals that he was not even charged with.  This is a nice reminder for defense counsel of the perils of challenging “relevant conduct” at sentencing — and, to invoke one of Justice Scalia’s favorite themes, of the extent to which the guidelines system has replaced the common-law values of adversarial testing of evidence with the bureaucratic values of efficient case-processing.

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