Summary of Case:
The oral argument on December 6, 2011 in Pepper v. United States was unusual in several respects.
First, instead of the usual two lawyers arguing, there were three. Besides Mr. Pepper’s lawyer, and the government’s lawyer from the Office of the Solicitor General, a third lawyer participated. They divided the hour-long oral argument three ways. The Supreme Court appointed Adam Ciongoli as the third lawyer to defend the Eight Circuit’s judgment that post-sentencing rehabilitation may not be considered. That was because the other unusual feature of the Pepper case was the fact that the government had agreed with Mr. Pepper (and with FAMM) that the 8th Circuit’s position on post sentencing rehabilitation was indefensible.
The case presented two issues: (1) whether the second sentencing judge had violated a rule called “the law of the case” when she reduced the first sentencing judge’s substantial assistance departure even though the 8th Circuit did not reverse that part of the original sentence, and (2) whether the 8th Circuit rule prohibiting the use of post-sentencing rehabilitation is invalid in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to make the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines are advisory.
FAMM was especially interested in issue two and we were pleased to hear the government’s lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Roy McLeese, defend the ability of judges to use post sentencing rehabilitation and strongly urge the Court to strike down the 8th Circuits rule barring its use. In fact, so fervently did Mr. McLeese argue for post-sentencing rehabilitation that the Chief Justice had to remind him to talk about issue one: He told the Court that it only makes sense to consider conduct after sentencing; if not a judge would not be able to consider a defendant’s bad conduct at a second sentencing and it would be unfair to only consider the bad conduct of defendants and not their good deeds.
Mr. Ciongoli disagreed and relied on a little used vestige of pre-advisory guidelines law to support his position. That law, 18 U.S.C. § 3742(g) prohibits courts from imposing a lower sentence at a resentencing if the lower sentence would be based on grounds that were “not specifically and affirmatively” included in the original sentencing justification. Several justices expressed the opinion that this law led to unconstitutional results following Booker and it would prevent judges from considering any post offense conduct, good or bad. Moreover, Justice Ginsburg pointed out that such an interpretation would also require judges to ignore the mandate in the federal sentencing statute, to impose a sentence “sufficient but no greater than necessary” to comply with the various purposes of punishment. Mr. Ciongoli appeared to concede the point at the end of the argument.