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United States v. Begay.

No. 19-2022. D.N.M. Judge Lucero. Federal and State Sentencing Disparities—Reasonableness of Sentences.

September 7, 2020


Defendant assaulted a man in the Navajo Nation and pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The presentence report calculated a US Sentencing Guidelines’ imprisonment range of 46 to 57 months. Defendant requested that the court vary from this range, contending that significantly higher penalties are imposed on Native Americans convicted of assault in New Mexico federal court than in New Mexico state court. The sentencing court declined to consider defendant’s sentencing-disparity argument and sentenced him to 46 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, defendant argued that his sentence was unreasonable because under 18 USC § 3553(a)(6), a sentencing court must consider the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct. He maintained that Native Americans receive harsher sentences for aggravated assault than other groups because Native Americans are disproportionately subject to federal criminal jurisdiction. The purpose of § 3553(a)(6) is not to prevent disparities between state and federal sentences, but rather to prevent disparities in sentences among federal defendants. Further, under relevant case law, a district court may not consider a federal/state sentencing disparity under § 3553(a)(6) because consideration of such a disparity would undermine the statute’s goal of achieving uniformity in sentences among similarly situated federal defendants. Accordingly, the district court’s sentencing decision was reasonable.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.


Related Topics

Federal and State Sentencing Disparities Reasonableness of Sentences

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