Friday, March 30, 2007

United States v. Vargas - Fast-Track Disparity Case - Denied Rehearing

The Third Circuit has denied rehearing in United States v. Vargas, where the Court rejected an appeal raising error for the district court’s refusal to consider fast-track disparity in sentencing. (panel opinion here) In a concurring opinion, Judge Ambro elaborated on the “limited scope” of the Court’s panel opinion, its two holdings and how it is consistent with United States v. Gunter. First, Vargas held that “a district court’s refusal to adjust a sentence to compensate for the absence of a fast-track program does not make a sentence unreasonable.” Although Gunter held that a court errs when it believes it has no discretion to consider an infirmity in the guidelines, it did not establish a rule that the court must consider it. Sentencing courts may, however, do so if “they are persuaded that the Guidelines do not sufficiently effect the goals of sentencing.” Second, Vargas held that a sentencing court “may not, in the fast-track context, rely on § 3553(a)(6)’s reference to ‘unwarranted sentence disparities’ to justify a sentence that varies from the advisory Guidelines range.” This does not preclude other factors - - such as ‘the history and characteristics of the defendant’ - - from serving as a basis for variance in the fast-track context. For example, an individual defendant may enter an early plea and waive various procedural rights, considerations permissible in Gunter’s third step.

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