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Sentencing Guidelines

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//June 24, 2024//

Sentencing Guidelines

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//June 24, 2024//

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: United States of America v. Joseph Van Sach

Case No.: 23-1367

Officials: Easterbrook, Brennan, and Jackson-Akiwumi, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Sentencing Guidelines

Joseph Van Sach appeals his 87-month sentence for assaulting a correctional officer. 18 U.S.C. § 111(a), (b). He principally challenges the district court’s calculation of the sentencing range under the guideline provision for aggravated assault, U.S.S.G. § 2A2.2, which the government concedes was applied in error. Because the application of § 2A2.2 was not harmless, we vacate Van Sach’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

The court had already determined that the injury inflicted by Van Sach did not qualify as “serious,” making the application of this guideline inappropriate. The correct guideline should have been U.S.S.G. § 2A2.4 (“Obstructing or Impeding Officers”), which has a lower base offense level. This would have resulted in a total offense level of 15 instead of 25 and a sentencing range of 24 to 30 months instead of 70 to 87 months. The government argued that the error was harmless because the district court stated that the sentence would be the same regardless of any procedural errors. However, the appellate court found this “inoculating statement” insufficiently detailed and not specifically linked to the misapplied guideline error. An effective inoculating statement must be detailed, explain the parallel result, and illustrate how the error would not affect the ultimate outcome. The district court’s statement lacked these details and did not justify how the same sentence would apply under a lower guideline range.

The appellate court emphasized that when a procedural error goes unnoticed by all parties, the burden should not fall solely on the defendant. Correcting such errors is crucial to ensure the integrity of judicial proceedings.

Vacated and Remanded.

Decided 06/20/24

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