As I described here and here, the Seventh Circuit has an interesting line of cases that attempt to establish some minimal standards for the way that district judges explain their sentences. Add to that line the court’s decision last week in United States v. Robertson (No. 10-3543). I think that Robertson is the court’s first decision to apply the explanation requirement to a resentencing that occurred after revocation of a defendant’s supervised release.
That the explanation requirement would apply here is perhaps not a given, since, as the court observed, the district judge has even more discretion in this setting than in an original sentencing. (4) The court ruled, however, that the district judge must indeed “say something that enables the appellate court to infer that he considered both [the recommendations of the sentencing guidelines and the statutory sentencing factors].” (4)
In Robertson, the guidelines recommended a term of 12-18 months following the defendant’s revocation for growing marijuana, but the district judge instead imposed a sentence of 34 months. Here is the “explanation” for the sentence that the Seventh Circuit found inadequate:
The judge didn’t give a reason for the 34-month term, and made just four, brief remarks that might supply clues to his thinking. The first is that he was “baffled” that the defendant would continue growing marijuana after spending eight years in prison for that crime. The second remark, which followed immediately and merely repeated the first in different words was: “why did you even consider doing this again?” The defendant replied that he had grown marijuana because “he just liked the way the plant looked” and he “liked to smoke it,” whereupon the judge asked him sarcastically whether he had “ever thought about growing gardenias or something legal versus growing marijuana” and added (this was his fourth remark) “you could have grown roses.” Without further explanation the judge stated: “with respect to the revocation, the Court is going to sentence you to 34 months.” (2-3)
Sending a man to prison for nearly three years surely requires more of an explanation than a couple of sarcastic observations about his horticultural preferences. The Seventh Circuit properly vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing.
Cross posted at Life Sentences Blog.