Wednesday, April 20, 2005

No rhyme or reason in US Courts

Judge Scolded Over Lenient Sentencing

Appeals Court Expresses Concern Over Reasoning
April 20, 2005, By DAVID OWENS, And EDMUND MAHONY Hartford Courant Staff Writers

In a strongly worded order, a federal appeals court has directed U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Dorsey to reconsider his no-prison sentence for a woman who embezzled nearly $366,000 from the bank where she worked.

Susan K. Godding faced 24 to 30 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines in effect at the time, but Dorsey sentenced her to one day - a term satisfied by the time she spent in federal court on the day of her sentencing.

He also imposed six months of home confinement and five years of probation, and ordered her to make full restitution. The decision angered prosecutors and many people in Godding's hometown of Norfolk, and led to an appeal.

Dorsey, a judge known for leniency toward white-collar criminals, was criticized a month ago for the sentence he imposed on former Gov. John G. Rowland.

In its ruling issued Tuesday, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said it was troubled by Dorsey's reasoning for abandoning the sentencing guidelines and, given the nature of Godding's offense, the "reasonableness" of the no-jail sentence.

If, after Dorsey's reconsideration of Godding's sentence, the case is again appealed, the appellate court will review any new sentence for "reasonableness," the court said.

While ordering Dorsey to consider whether he wants to resentence Godding, the appellate judges expressed concern over his comments regarding the bank's failure to have internal controls to detect Godding's thefts.

"Godding embezzled a significant sum and we do not think a district court could properly discount Godding's responsibility for the amount by referring to the bank's failure to check the crime," the judges wrote.

"Furthermore, we are more broadly concerned that the brevity of the term of imprisonment imposed by this sentence does not reflect the magnitude of the theft of nearly $366,000 over a five-year period."

"We are obviously very pleased with today's decision by the Second Circuit, which recognizes that Ms. Godding's sentence was inappropriate," U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor said.

"We are also pleased that the Second Circuit specifically noted in its opinion that it was troubled that the victim was deemed responsible for Ms. Godding's illegal activity. This decision properly puts the blame where it belongs: squarely on Ms. Godding's shoulders."

Godding, 40, is awaiting sentencing on separate state charges of stealing $32,511 from the account of the couple for whom she did bookkeeping work. As part of a plea agreement, she faces up to six years in prison and five years of probation. Her lawyer, Charles Willson, will have the opportunity to argue for less time at her sentencing, scheduled for May 17.

In addition to questioning his "reasonableness," the appellate court's Tuesday ruling also criticized Dorsey for abandoning the sentencing guidelines, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has rendered them "advisory" rather than "mandatory" since the Godding sentencing in May 2004.

The sentencing guidelines are not a "body of casual advice, to be consulted or overlooked at the whim of the sentencing judge," the appellate court said.

"On the contrary, the Supreme Court expects sentencing judges faithfully to discharge their statutory obligations to `consider' the guidelines and all of the other factors."

A judge must, among other things, consider the need for a sentence "to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense," the appellate court said.

The Godding case is not the first time Dorsey has imposed a sentence not in line with the sentencing guidelines - or one that prosecutors considered too lenient. Dorsey last month sentenced Rowland to, effectively, 10½ months in federal prison on corruption charges even after prosecutors urged him to increase, rather than reduce, the 15- to 21-month sentence his lawyer had negotiated in a plea bargain.

From the perspective of defense lawyers, Dorsey is considered the best federal judge in the state. He consistently has annoyed federal prosecutors by finding reasons to impose prison sentences shorter than those called for by sentencing guidelines.

Defense lawyers call him courageous. Prosecutors say he is infuriating.

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