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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Holds Sentencing Guidelines Set in Stone

CHICAGO (CN) - A convicted felon found in possession of eight guns must be resentenced because the judge handling the case improperly departed from sentencing guidelines, the 7th Circuit ruled.

After Jaymie Mount, a previously convicted felon, was spotted carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in 2010, police obtained a search warrant for his home. The search turned up eight firearms and landed Mount back in custody.

Mount announced his intention to plead guilty and was released on his own recognizance on the condition that he stayed in a residential facility operated by Volunteers of America.

Five months into his stay, Mount received permission to leave the facility temporarily to visit his grandmother and disappeared. He was arrested three months later by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Mount remained in custody and again pled guilty. The Assistant U.S. Attorney never added a charge for Mount's decision to jump bail. In fact, the government later moved for a two-level sentencing reduction for acceptance of responsibility as well as a one-level reduction for notifying prosecutors of his guilty plea in advance, saving legal resources.

But U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson refused to grant the additional one-level reduction, citing Mount's flight. Without the reduction, the guidelines range was calculated at be seven to nine years.

Mount appealed, arguing that the judge lacked discretion to deny the reduction once the government had recommended it.

"The question is whether... The additional one-level downward adjustment remains discretionary with the court, or if-strictly as a matter of properly computing the advisory guideline range-it is mandatory," 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood summarized.

"We have not had occasion squarely to address this question in the past," she wrote, rejecting the government's arguments that past decisions had foreclosed the issue.

The court ultimately sided with Mount, ruling that judges' discretion at sentencing only comes following the proper guidelines calculation, which is set in stone.

"Indeed, this is how the guidelines normally work: once the court finds that a certain quantity of drugs was involved, for example, it has no discretion to assign an offense level that corresponds to a different quantity. From that perspective, Mount's argument is a straightforward one."

The court made sure to clarify that Judge Magnus-Stinson could still take Mount's flight into consideration when determining his final sentence.

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