On October 2, 2007, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gall v. US. Brian Gall sold ecstasy at the University of Iowa for a few months in 2000. After cleaning up his act, he graduated, moved to Arizona, and started a job in the construction industry. Law enforcement officers came to him three-years after he stopped dealing drugs and asked him about his prior involvement at the University of Iowa. He answered honestly and officers took no action against him. A year later he was charged with conspiracy to distribute ecstasy and Mr. Gall voluntarily returned to Iowa where he surrendered himself.

Under 1999 sentencing guidelines (the ones that applied at the time), the recommended sentence for a crime of his magnitude was 30-37 months. After considering a number of mitigating circumstances, the district judge sentenced him to only 3 years of probation citing that the recommended sentence would promote “not respect, but derision, of the
law.”

The Eighth Circuit reversed the ruling and characterized the sentence as “[a]n extraordinary reduction must be supported by extraordinary circumstances.” The court also held that he was already granted a “significant benefit” from being sentenced under the 1999 rules instead of the 2000 version. Gall claims that this sentencing decision was a factor of ex post facto consideration, not an act of leniency. The petitioner’s brief summarizes this case rather efficently:

This case presents the issue that the Court could not address this past Term because of the unfortunate death of Mario Claiborne: whether the extraordinary circumstances test is inconsistent with United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). The test requires that a sentence which deviates from the range recommended by the United States Sentencing Guidelines be supported by “extraordinary circumstances.”. In essence, it presumes such a sentence to be unreasonable in the absence of a sliding scale of affirmative proof to the contrary, which depends upon how much the sentence “deviates” from the Guidelines range. As this Court strongly suggested in Rita v. United States, this presumption of unreasonableness is wholly inconsistent with the “across the board” reasonableness standard set forth in Booker and, therefore, is both unlawful and unconstitutional.

The Court rushed arguments in the case in an effort to settle the issue that was left open at the end of the last term. Last year, in Rita the Court upheld the reasonableness of sentences that fall within the standard guidelines. The court will now decide if cases below the guidelines are per se reasonable.

You can always find more information about upcoming cases before the court at our 2007 Term Case Index



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