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10th Cir - Must consider circumstances of the offense

10th Circuit says must consider circumstances of offense

An unpublished sentencing opinion from the Tenth Circuit in US v. Mahan, No. 05-1518 (10th Cir. May 16, 2007)
which reverses a within guideline sentence because it was procedurally unreasonable.

Here is the heart of a significant (even though unpublished) ruling:

District courts must consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors in applying a sentence that is "sufficient, but not greater than necessary" to fulfill the aims of those factors. Among other factors, § 3553(a)(1) requires the court to consider "the nature and circumstances of the offense" when developing an appropriate sentence. Following Mr. Mahan's description of how and why he came to possess the gun, the district court said "the reasons why you had the weapon ... aren't something the Court can consider," because possession of a firearm by a felon is a strict liability offense. The district court further labeled as "extraneous factors" Mr. Mahan's reasons for possessing the gun and acknowledged such information would have no bearing on its determination of Mr. Mahan's sentence.

The district court was correct that mens rea is not relevant in determining if an individual is guilty of a strict liability crime. However, in determining the appropriate sentence for one guilty of such a crime, the court must consider the factors set forth in § 3553(a), including the nature and circumstances of the offense. We find nothing in § 3553(a) to suggest that the "circumstances of the offense" factor exclusively applies to crimes requiring a mens rea or that this factor is to be specially excluded when arriving at a sentence for a strict liability crime. In fact, we have previously stated that the district court is required to consider all § 3553(a) factors when sentencing an individual for the same strict liability crime presented in this case.

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