Monday, April 11, 2011

District Court Abused Its Discretion Regarding Non Frivolous Arguments For Leniency, says Sixth Circuit

This case is from the Eastern District of Michigan.  In 2009, Robert Michael Pizzino pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography and received a 180-month sentence. He appealed his sentence in part based upon the district court's not fully addressing his sentencing memorandum and arguments at sentencing based upon the memorandum.

The Sixth Circuit in Pizzino held that the district court abused its discretion in failing to consider Pizzino’s non frivolous arguments for leniency, the court vacated his sentence and remanded for a resentencing that addresses them.

In his presentencing memorandum, Pizzino's lawyer presented several arguments for a lower sentence, including his limited criminal history, his low risk of recidivism, and the alternate sentences available. Pizzino's lawyer supplemented the memo with a statement from his therapist, as well as the
therapist’s notes from Pizzino’s sessions, all of which highlighted his progress and low risk of recidivism. Pizzino’s lawyer further emphasized these factors at the sentencing hearing.

The Sixth Circuit found that a district court’s acknowledgement that it received and understood a defendant’s sentencing memorandum does not fulfill its duty to respond to the defendant’s non frivolous arguments, as such a conclusive statement leaves the Sixth Circuit unsure as to whether the district court adequately considered and rejected Pizzino's arguments regarding proper application of the § 3553(a) factors or whether it misconstrued, ignored,or forgot them.

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