United States v. Hammond

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 02-07-2014
  • Case #: 12-30337; 12-30339
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Murphy for the Court; Circuit Judges Tallman and Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

Where Congress has, within its authority, determined an appropriate sentence for a crime, the district court has no discretion to disregard the minimum sentence mandated by the statute.

The government challenged the legality of the district court’s decision to reduce terms of imprisonment for the Hammond brothers who had been convicted by the jury for maliciously damaging real property of the United States by fire. See 18 USC § 844(f)(1). While the jury deliberated on the remaining charges, the Hammonds agreed to waive the right to contest the jury verdicts in exchange for the government’s moving to dismiss the other charges. After accepting the parties’ agreement, the district court dismissed the remaining charges. At sentencing, although the convictions carried minimum five-year terms of imprisonment, the district court deviated from the statutory minimum, reasoning that the Eighth Amendment would not permit sentences that were “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses.” As a threshold matter, the Ninth Circuit first rejected the Hammonds’ contention that the government had impliedly waived its right to appeal in the plea agreement. The panel then refused to imply a waiver where the plea agreement was silent on the government’s right to appeal, citing general principles of formation and interpretation of plea agreements. Finally, the panel noted that the government had preserved its objection in its sentencing memorandum and at sentencing. On the merits of the case, the panel acknowledged Congress’ broad authority to determine an appropriate term of imprisonment and held that the district court illegally imposed sentences below the statutory minimum term. VACATED and REMANDED.

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