Claiborne v. United States - Oral Argument - February 20, 2007

Claiborne v. United States

Media for Claiborne v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 04, 2007 in Claiborne v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 2007 in Claiborne v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument next in 06-5618, Claiborne versus United States.

Mr. Dwyer.

Michael Dwyer:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The district court's 15-month sentence combined with 3 years of supervised release conditioned on drug treatments and the acquisition of a GED was a reasonable sentence.

In the uniform and constant tradition of Federal criminal sentencing, the district judge in this case treated Mario Claiborne as an individual.

She considered the guidelines and after doing so turned to the judgment that 3553(a) demands in every case.

She issued a sentence to avoid unwarranted disparity, to impose just punishment, and to ensure that deterrence did not throw away Mario Claiborne's chances to resume his responsibilities to himself, to his family, and to his community.

The court of appeals, in contrast to the district court's careful attention to the 3553(a) factors, focused solely on the guidelines.

The court of appeals applied its extraordinary circumstances rule.

That rule re-tethers sentencing to the guideline.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

What would be your test of reasonableness for appellate review?

Michael Dwyer:

I think a sentence would be reasonable if a reasonable judge on the facts and circumstances of that case would find that the sentence imposed was sufficient but not greater than necessary to satisfy 3553(a) standards.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

It seems to me that gives very little weight to the goal, which I think is a congressional goal, of nationwide consistency in eliminating the disparities in the sentencing system which cause great disrespect to the justice system.

Michael Dwyer:

I think that the statute speaks of unwarranted disparity and does not speak in terms of uniformity.

And there is necessarily a tension between the individualized sentencing that 3553(a) requires and concerns about nationwide uniformity.

But I think that what distinguishes sentencing under the advisory guidelines system from the Presentencing Reform Act system are several.

One is now we explicitly have purposes of sentencing and factors the judge must consider.

3553 didn't exist before that time.

Secondly, in every case, as a practical matter, the guidelines are going to exert a gravitational weight because they are there.

They must be considered as part of the statute.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Can I substitute "substantial" for "gravitational" without offending your position or affecting your position?

Michael Dwyer:

I don't... my position would be that 3553(a)(4) is the correct place for consideration of the guidelines.

It's just one of seven factors.

As a practical matter, I think it's going to get--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Kind of a weak law of gravity like the Moon.

It's only at one-seventh.

[Laughter]

Michael Dwyer:

--As a legal matter weak.

As a practical matter, I think unfortunately it's going to be very strong.

And I think one of the real dangers of an advisory guideline--