Eleventh Circuit Reverses Two Cases on Sentencing Issues: United States v. Washington, No. 11-14177, and United States v. Hamilton, No. 12-10899
If you handle Federal criminal defense cases or criminal appeals in the Eleventh Circuit, you’re well aware that the Government almost always wins in criminal appeals. But today, I wanted to pass along two recent opinions where the Government lost on different sentencing issues.
In United States v. Washington, No. 11-14177, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a sentence because the Government failed to adduce any evidence that there were 250 or more victims as required by the section 2B1.1(b)(2)(C) enhancement of the Sentencing Guidelines. Since the opinion is a mere 10 pages, you should take a moment to read it. But if you don’t have time, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: the best part of the slip opinion comes on page 9, where Judge Jordan, writing for the Court, declined the Government’s request to allow the Government the chance to prove, on remand, that there were 250 or more victims. In so doing, Judge Jordan emphasized that despite the fact that the Government was aware that Washington specifically objected to the number of victims charged, the Government made no effort whatsoever to prove up the number of victims. See Washington, No. 11-14177, slip op., pg. 9. Because the Government failed to meet its burden of proof on the contested sentencing issue, the Eleventh remanded the case to the District Court with directions for the District Court to resentence Washington to the 2-level enhancement based on his concession on appeal that the offense involved only 10 or more victims.
Next, in United States v. Hamilton, No. 12-10899, the Court reversed two District Court orders denying Hamilton’s Motions for Modification or Reduction of Sentence filed pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582 (c)(2) because the District Court’s findings as to drug quantity were insufficient. Although the opinion is a bit longer at 25 pages, it’s still a fairly quick read, as most of the opinion is devoted to a statement of the facts and procedural history. The slip opinion’s analysis starts at page 16. After quickly discussing the principles which govern section 3582(c)(2) motions and two of its prior decisions addressing drug quantity, the Court pointedly noted the flaws of the District Court’s previous orders, and explained the District Court’s task on remand.
Maybe it’s just me, but based on some of the opinions I’ve read over the last few months, it seems as though the Eleventh Circuit is becoming less of a rubber stamp for the Government. Only time will tell, but I sure hope the trend continues.