Friday, June 01, 2018

11th Circuit vacates unreasonable sentence and pot-soaked legal papers

This is pretty rare, and it's good to see that the 11th Circuit has taken the step of reversing a crazy-high sentence (100+ years) where the district judge said that he would not look at other similarly situated defendants.  From the opinion:
However, our careful consideration has led us to conclude that his sentence is substantively unreasonable. In imposing what amounted to a life sentence without parole, the District Court responded to Mr. Killen’s argument that his sentence was disparate by saying “sentencing disparity is not a recognized basis for a sentence to be imposed.”10 But to the contrary, § 3553(a) lists “the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities” as a factor to be considered. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6). Indeed this factor requires particular attention in the context of child pornography offenses, in light of the wide range of conduct that can constitute this type of offense, as well as the breadth of sentences authorized under the child pornography guidelines. See United States v. Kapordelis, 569 F.3d 1291, 1317 (11th Cir. 2009) (collecting cases).
The significance of considering sentencing disparity is highlighted by a comparison of the defendant’s conduct in Kapordelis to that of Mr. Killen. In Kapordelis, we affirmed Mr. Kapordelis’s 35-year sentence, which was a variance above his guideline range, where he possessed more than 500 videos and 2,000 images of child pornography, had a 20-year history of drugging and molesting minors, and had traveled abroad to have sex with minor boys. Id. at 1318–19. Mr. Killen possessed a similar number of child pornography images. However, in contrast to Mr. Kaprodelis, Mr. Killen had no hands-on contact with a minor during the less than 2-year period of his criminal conduct, let alone a 20-year history of drugging and molesting them or traveling for the express purpose of having sex with a child. Also, there are potentially mitigating facts in Mr. Killen’s case, not present in the Kapordelis case. For example, despite the fact that Mr. Killen had reached the age of majority at the time of his offense, he was found to be very immature for his age. The Magistrate Judge made this finding after the suppression hearing, and the District Court adopted it. The District Court heard from both Mr. Killen’s parents and a neighbor during sentencing that Mr. Killen was a “special needs” child. The presentence report detailed his horrific childhood in a Romanian orphanage. And yet Mr. Killen’s sentence is four times that of Mr. Kapordelis.
Thus, we conclude that the District Court did not consider “the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities,” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6), and we are left with the definite and firm conviction that the court committed a clear error of judgment in weighing the § 3553(a) factors. See United States v. Irey, 612 F.3d 1160, 1189 (11th Cir. 2010) (en banc) (“A district court abuses its discretion when it [] fails to afford consideration to relevant factors that were due significant weight.”); Pugh, 515 F.3d at 1194 (“[A] sentence may be unreasonable if it is grounded solely on one factor, relies on impermissible factors, or ignores relevant factors.”). We therefore vacate Mr. Killen’s sentence.

The 11th Circuit also sent the case away from Judge Moore and to a different district judge for resentencing. 

In other news, and in an only in Miami story, the feds nabbed a guy soaking "legal" papers in synthetic marijuana and sending them to inmates.  Jay Weaver covers it here:
The duo's primary trick involved creating legal packets with the names of seven legitimate criminal defense attorneys in South Florida and fabricating logos, cover letters and business envelopes to give them the appearance of professionalism. They created an email address,, and a website,, featuring photos of actual attorneys in their offices.
"Once the packets were created, the documents were impregnated [soaked] with the narcotic and mailed to numerous federal inmates throughout the United States," the affidavit says. "Rodriguez often mailed the packages himself, and Mendez accepted payment and laundered those payments through personal business bank accounts."
During the 2017 investigation, FBI agents said they seized 33 packages sent to prison inmates by Rodriguez, most of which tested positive for the drug at the time the affidavit was filed in December by federal prosecutor Cristina Maxwell. At that time, the rest of the packets were still being tested for the narcotic.
Rodriguez also penetrated the Federal Bureau of Prisons' mailing system by creating packets of pot-soaked funeral announcements and obituary notices.
"These mailings consisted of photographs and obituaries of individuals purporting to be related to the inmate receiving the mail," the affidavit says. "The packages appeared to have been mailed from 'Christ Fellowship Church, Miami, Florida.' ''
FBI agents seized two of these packages, which also tested positive for Adb-Fubinaca.
During the investigation, agents said they also collected video and photographic evidence of Rodriguez at South Florida post offices while he was sending packages marked as "legal mail" with the return addresses of four different criminal defense attorneys.

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1 comment:

Adam Shajnfeld said...

Wow, great summary on Killen, and thanks for sharing. Truly an extraordinary decision. To finally see the day where one of the central claims of my (old) article on the 11th's sentencing is rendered untrue--that the 11th only cuts down what it perceives to be lenient sentences, and not harsh ones.