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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit issues one Indiana opinion today

In USA v. Walker, Thomas (SD Ind., Larry J. McKinney, Chief Judge), a 16-page opinion, Judge Sykes writes:

Thomas Walker, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, pleaded guilty to stabbing four correctional officers with sharpened metal rods. A few days later he had second thoughts and mailed a letter to the district court asking to withdraw one of his guilty pleas. On the day of sentencing, Walker’s attorney filed a motion to withdraw all four pleas, asserting that Walker “felt coerced” to plead guilty because the district court had denied his motion to transfer the case to Indianapolis and he did not think he could get a fair trial in Terre Haute. The district court denied Walker’s motion and sentenced him to 240 months’ imprisonment—30 months longer than the high end of the applicable advisory Sentencing Guidelines range.

Walker argues on appeal that (1) the district court should have permitted him to withdraw his guilty pleas, (2) under Rule 32(h) of the FEDERAL RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE he was entitled to advance notice before the district court imposed a sentence that departed upward from the advisory Guidelines range, and (3) his sentence was unreasonable.

We affirm. The district court held that Walker had not presented a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty pleas but had merely changed his mind; this ruling was not an abuse of discretion. Rule 32(h)’s notice requirement—which applies to “departures” from the Guidelines, a concept that our post-Booker1 cases have called “obsolete”—does not apply here, where the district court selected a sentence at variance from the advisory Guidelines range based on the sentencing factors specified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Finally, Walker’s sentence of 240 months was reasonable and adequately explained by the district court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 17, 2006 12:26 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions