Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hayes: Sentence of Probation Substantively Unreasonable for defendant who paid $600,000 in bribes

In U.S. v. Hayes, No. 11-13678 (Aug. 12, 2014) (2-1), the Court held that the district court imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence when it imposed a term of probation and no term of incarceration on a defendant who pled guilty to of giving $600,0000 in bribes to a state official to ensure that his company would continue to receive government contracts. The defendant’s guideline range was 135-168 months. The government recommended a substantial assistance downward departure, which would have resulted in a 57-71 months range. At sentencing, after noting the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparity, the district court sentenced Hayes to three years’ probation. Though acknowledging “the institutional superiority that district courts possess with regard to sentencing,” the Court vacated the sentence as substantively unreasonable. The Court found that the possibility of unwarranted sentencing disparity did not justify sentencing Hayes to probation, pointing out that of the similarly situated persons identified in a chart prepared by the probation office, the one most closely situated to Hayes – the state official who took his bribes – received a sentence of 78 months. Four of the five others received prison terms, and the only one who did not was responsible for just $300,000 in losses, half of the amount of money Hayes was ordered to pay in restitution.