I will close for the moment our series on criminal appeals with an example on the sentencing appeals I talked about last week. That example from Minnesota involves a sickening sequence of events. It started with a tv falling on a 19-month-old child’s head, continuing with her care taker concealing the injury and her death later that evening. The defendant plead guilty to felony child endangerment. The court deviated from the guidelines because of the victim’s young age, which made her absolutely vulnerable and dependent on adults.
The argument on appeal was that since the sentencing guidelines were already calculated to punish felonious child endangerment, an upward departure because the victim was a young child was abuse of discretion. The Court of Appeals disagreed and let the upward departure stand, reasoning that since “child” endangerment encompassed such a wide variety of ages, from birth to 18, departure based on the vulnerability of the very young could be justified based on the individual circumstances of the case. (It may be ironic to note that in this case, the difference between a sentence under the guidelines and the departure accounted for only 2 of the defendant’s 20-year sentence.)
The story is horrific but drives the point home. This is the manner in which zealously represented defendants will parse increased sentences on appeal.