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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana case decided today by 7th Circuit

In U.S. v. Barnes (ND Ind., Springmann), a 13-page opinion, Judge Flaum writes:

On May 24, 2006, defendantappellant, Marlyn Barnes, was indicted, along with Melvin Taylor, Michael Alexander, Theodis Armstead, Herbert Hightower, and Vernell Brown, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Barnes was also indicted for carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In February of 2008, a jury found Barnes guilty on both counts. For the purpose of sentencing, the district court found that the conspiracy involved forty kilograms of cocaine, making Barnes’s base offense level 34. Barnes appeals the district court’s sentence on the grounds that the district court improperly rejected a stipulation by the parties that the conspiracy involved five-to-fifteen kilograms of cocaine, which would have resulted in a base offense level of 32, and that the evidence the district court relied on in rejecting that stipulation was unreliable. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the district court’s sentence and remand for re-sentencing. * * *

Before we reach the issue of clear error, we must first decide the legal question of whether a district court may disregard a post-trial factual stipulation between the defendant and the government regarding the amount of drugs for sentencing purposes. Because of the rarity of this situation, this specific question is a matter of first impression for this court. * * *

While it is rare for the district court to reject a post-trial stipulation between the parties, it is not a legal error to do so. The district court in this case found that the stipulation was not supported by the evidence from the trial. That factual determination is an issue we review for clear error, as we would review any factual predicate for determining a sentencing range. * * *

[Here] the district court never questioned the stipulations between the government and Armstead, Alexander, Brown, and Hightower that the conspiracy involved fiveto- fifteen kilograms. Then, on the same factual record, the district court rejected an identical stipulation between the government and Barnes without explaining why it was treating the defendants differently with regard to this finding. * * * Such a finding is incongruous with the district court’s decisions to accept the factual stipulations in the cases of the cooperating co-defendants and to reject the factual stipulation in this case. Without any justification for why one co-conspirator is responsible for a greater quantity of drugs than his fellow co-conspirators, such a discrepancy in factual findings is clearly erroneous.

For the reasons discussed above, we VACATE the district court’s sentence of 292 months, and REMAND for re-sentencing.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 8, 2010 12:14 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions