United States v. Bad Marriage
In an opinion by Judge Warren Ferguson, a divided Ninth Circuit panel overturned the 41-month prison sentence that a district court imposed on Vernon Lee Bad Marriage, Jr. after he attacked his girlfriend. Bad Marriage pleaded guilty to assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The district court had departed upward from the usual sentencing range on the grounds that Bad Marriage was likely to commit other crimes: he had 35 prior state court convictions and 60 convictions in tribal court. Despite this criminal history, the Circuit panel concluded that, “Bad Marriage’s record reveals an individual ravaged by substance abuse, not a depraved criminal,” and that the upward departure was not justified by the facts. The Court reasoned that Bad Marriage shouldn’t get such a punishment because “social and penal policies” failed to alleviate the problem of alcohol abuse and the crimes caused by it on Indian reservations. These problems “cry out for treatment, not simply more prison time.”
This case was overturned after the Supreme Court’s January 2005 ruling in United States v. Booker, which held that the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. As a result, a new Ninth Circuit panel affirmed a 49-month sentence imposed on Bad Marriage by the circuit court judge.
This case is activist because the judges play favorites, revealing personal sympathy for a litigant, which they rely upon to supplant the ordinary, legal considerations in reviewing the district court’s sentence. The Court’s bias is clearly revealed in their lament that the “ravaged” individual was simply in need of “treatment.” An interesting claim considering that Bad Marriage attacked his girlfriend while he was supposed to be sitting in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—the very meeting that he was released from tribal jail to attend.
Court & Reporter NumberNinth Circuit, 392 F.3d 1103
- Harry Pregerson
- Warren J Ferguson