Gall v. United States

PETITIONER: Brian Michael Gall
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay

DOCKET NO.: 06-7949
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 552 US 38 (2007)
GRANTED: Jun 11, 2007
ARGUED: Oct 02, 2007
DECIDED: Dec 10, 2007

ADVOCATES:
Jeffrey T. Green - on behalf of the Petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

While a student at the University of Iowa, Brian Gall was involved in a drug ring distributing ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine, MDMA). He voluntarily left the drug conspiracy and moved to Arizona where he started his own business and led a crime-free life. When federal agents tracked him down, he turned himself in and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. The government argued for a sentence of 30 months in prison, which was the minimum sentence in the range recommended for the offense by the federal sentencing guidelines. Taking into account the mitigating circumstances in Gall's case, the judge instead decided to depart from the guidelines and impose a sentence of 36 months of probation. (The Supreme Court in U.S. v. Booker had declared the sentencing guidelines to be merely advisory, but the guidelines range is still among the factors a court must consider before handing down a reasonable sentence.)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected the below-guidelines sentence as unreasonable. The Eighth Circuit held that while the guidelines are not mandatory, sentences that fall outside of the recommended sentencing range must overcome a presumption of unreasonableness. Sentences varying from the guidelines must be justified based on the circumstances of the case, and larger variances from the guidelines require correspondingly more compelling justifications. The Eighth Circuit ruled that the district court had erred by using Gall's youth as a mitigating factor, by overweighing his rehabilitation, and by underweighing the seriousness of the crime. Since the "extraordinary variance" was not justified by a finding of extraordinary circumstances, the Eighth Circuit ordered a new sentence.

Question

May Courts of Appeals apply a presumption of unreasonableness to sentences that fall outside the range in the federal sentencing guidelines, so that district courts must justify below-guidelines sentences with a finding of extraordinary circumstances?

Media for Gall v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 02, 2007 in Gall v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 10, 2007 in Gall v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has the opinion for the Court today in case Number 06-7949, Gall versus United States, which he has asked me to announce.

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Petitioner Gall pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

He had voluntarily withdrawn from the conspiracy and ceased using drugs some three years prior to his indictment.

After a full sentencing hearing, the District Judge decided to sentence petitioner to probation for a term of 36 months instead of imposing a sentence of imprisonment within the 30 to 37 month range recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for resentencing because it concluded that petitioner's sentence was not supported by a justification that was proportional to the extent of the difference between the advisory range and the sentence that was imposed.

We granted certiorari and now reversed for reasons stated in a 21-page opinion.

We hold that while the extent of the difference between a particular sentence and the recommended Guidelines range is surely relevant.

Courts of Appeals must review all sentences whether inside or outside the Guidelines range under a deferential abuse of discretion standard.

We also hold that the sentence imposed by the District Judge in this case was reasonable.

Justice Scalia and Justice Souter have filed separate concurring opinions.

Justice Thomas and Justice Alito have filed separate dissenting opinions.