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8th Circuit decides N.D. case Thursday, February 29, 2024

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the court considered an appeal by Whitehorse Ducharme, who had pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact with a child and was sentenced to life in prison. Ducharme challenged his sentence on two grounds. First, he asserted that the district court failed to consider the offense level used to calculate his recommended sentencing range. Second, he argued that the court imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence.

The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments. Regarding the first, the court noted that the district court had indeed meticulously calculated Ducharme's offense level, and the assertion that it failed to consider the applicable offense level was untenable. Ducharme's actual issue appeared to be with the court's reliance on the § 3553(a) considerations to impose a sentence above what the Guidelines recommended. The appellate court pointed out that once courts have correctly calculated the Guidelines range, they may find a sentence outside that range "appropriate irrespective of the Guidelines range."

On the second point, Ducharme argued that a life sentence was substantively unreasonable because the court did not weigh the § 3553(a) sentencing considerations properly. He highlighted his limited criminal history and the fact that a life sentence far exceeded his Guidelines range. However, the court noted that its review of the substantive reasonableness of a sentence is narrow and deferential. The district court had considered the relevant sentencing criteria and given several convincing reasons for the sentence it chose, leading the Court of Appeals to conclude that it did not commit "a clear error of judgment" in varying upward to a life sentence.