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The Eleventh Circuit's Selective Assault on Sentencing Discretion

Adam Shajnfeld

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

August 1, 2011

University of Miami Law Review, Vol. 65, p. 1133, 2011

Ever since the Supreme Court declared that the sentences which district courts impose on criminal defendants are to be reviewed on appeal for “unreasonableness,” the standard’s contours have remained elusive and mired in controversy, despite the Court’s repeated attempts at elucidation. In few instances is this confounding state of affairs more apparent and acute than in the Eleventh Circuit’s recent lengthy and factious en banc decision in United States v. Irey. This article explores Irey’s merits, mistakes, and lessons, trying to locate each within the broader context of the Eleventh Circuit’s sentencing jurisprudence. In doing so, the article advances three principal arguments. First, Irey represents a serious and unlawful encroachment on district courts’ sentencing discretion, one based in part on misguided notions of culpability, mental illness, deterrence, the severity of supervised release, and obeisance to the Sentencing Guidelines. Second, Irey’s lasting impact is likely an increased yet largely unjustified pressure on district courts to sentence defendants more harshly, particularly for sexual offenses. Third, Irey and its predecessors demonstrate that in reviewing for unreasonableness, the Eleventh Circuit unnecessarily and unfairly wields a single-edged sword, capable of striking what is perceived as an unduly lenient sentence yet impotent against an unduly harsh one. Recognizing the pretextual nature of much sentencing discourse - in which stakeholders inconsistently advance varyingly deferential degrees of appellate review suspiciously consonant with the practical sentencing outcomes they desire - the article concludes with a call for appellate judges to transcend such partisanship and exercise dispassionate, reasoned, and balanced (i.e., double-edged) sentencing review.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: sentencing, reasonableness, Irey, child pornography, sex offense

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Date posted: August 3, 2011 ; Last revised: September 6, 2011

Suggested Citation

Shajnfeld, Adam, The Eleventh Circuit's Selective Assault on Sentencing Discretion (August 1, 2011). University of Miami Law Review, Vol. 65, p. 1133, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1903919

Contact Information

Adam Shajnfeld (Contact Author)
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP ( email )
One Liberty Plaza
New York, NY 10006
United States
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