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YOU TALK TOO MUCH
Billy Robinson may have just caught his district judge on a bad day. Maybe the judge was a Joe Jones fan. Whatever the reason, the sentencing in Billy’s mine-run drug trafficking case set the judge to such prolixity that even the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said, “enough”.
Billy joined his cousin’s heroin conspiracy at just the wrong time – as though there could ever be a right time to sign up for such an enterprise – as the police were closing in. He sold some dope to an undercover cop, and thus was swept up with the rest of the co-conspirators.
He pled guilty, and was looking at a Guidelines sentence of 84 months. He appeared for what should have been a pretty plain vanilla sentencing, not expecting the district court to deliver wide-ranging soliloquies on urban decay, the changing nature of Robinson’s neighborhood, the “pathology” of certain neighborhoods, and the connection between Milwaukee’s 1967 riots and recent protests in Baltimore.
As the 7th Circuit described it, “the sentencing hearing took a wrong turn by focusing on urban decay, social unrest, and the judge’s personal experiences in the relevant neighborhood… It is inappropriate to blame a defendant for issues of broad local, national, and international scope that only tangentially relate to his underlying conduct.”
The district recalled his college days of Robinson’s neighborhood, noting that many years ago it was a safe place and now it was not, because of the omnipresent drug trade. The Court of Appeals said “these references are troubling because they could be understood as a personal grudge that the judge bore against Robinson for dealing drugs in his old neighborhood… They appear to attribute issues of broad local and national… scope – changing crime rates in cities – to Robinson’s crime, when these issues at best only tangentially relate to his underlying conduct.”
The Circuit said criminal sentences must be based only on the criteria authorized by Congress in 18 U.S.C. § 3553. “The court’s comments made at this sentencing were irrelevant and had no basis in the record. They therefore undermine our confidence in the fairness of the proceeding… Because the district court’s improper extraneous comments were interwoven with its consideration of the Section 3553(a) factors, we have no way of knowing how, if at all, these extraneous considerations influenced Robinson’s sentence.”
The 7th remanded the case for resentencing in front of a different judge.
United States v. Robinson, Case No. 15-2019 (7th Cir. July 22, 2016)