Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sometimes Booker Works Against the Taxpayer (12/22/09)

Booker now gives the sentencing court considerable discretion to vary from the Guideline Sentence calculation. In tax cases, such variances are usually defendant-friendly -- i.e., the sentencing court sentences below the Guidelines range. If the Government is unhappy with the downward variance and appeals, the court of appeals will give considerable deference to the sentencing judge in the application of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). This works in reverse as well -- i.e., the sentencing court can impose an above-Guidelines sentence that will receive considerable Booker deference on appeal. See particularly United States v. Tomko, 562 F.3d 558, 564, 567 (3d Cir. 2009) (en banc). An above Guidelines sentence does not happen often in tax cases, but it does happen.

In a recent nonprecedential decision, the Court of Appeals addressed this type of above guidelines sentence. In United States v. Evans (3d Cir. No. 08-2528), the sentencing judge sentenced a tax protestor to an above guidelines sentence. The defendant was not pleased and appealed. The Court said (footnote omitted):

Finally, Evans argues that the District Court improperly relied on the two civil tax suits filed by Evans against the United States in its consideration of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. This is Evans' only complaint regarding his sentencing; he does not challenge the calculation of the Guidelines range or the Court's consideration of the § 3553(a) factors in general.

We review the District Court's sentence for reasonableness under an abuse of discretion standard. United States v. Tomko, 562 F.3d 558, 564, 567 (3d Cir. 2009) (en banc). "Where, as here, a district court decides to vary from the Guidelines' recommendations, we 'must give due deference to the district court's decision that the § 3553(a) factors, on a whole, justify the extent of the variance.'" Id. at 561 (quoting Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586, 597 (2007)).

The Guidelines range was 15 to 21 months. The District Court imposed an above-Guidelines sentence of 36 months. It discussed at length the factors set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). We do not think it was improper for the Court, in evaluating those factors (including the nature and circumstances of the offense), to consider that, despite several courts' unequivocal rejection of Evans' claims that his income was not subject to taxation, Evans continued to violate the law. The Court noted Evans' disrespect for the court process, his disdainful interactions with IRS agents, the need for him genuinely to appreciate the authority of the law, and the need to deter the public. We have no hesitancy in concluding that it rationally and meaningfully considered the § 3553(a) factors, and the sentence of 36 months was reasonable in this case.

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