When the Supreme Court changed the federal sentencing guidelines from “mandatory” to “advisory” in 2005, some in Congress wondered if judges might start going soft on criminals.
Not if Judge Ralph R. Erickson of the North Dakota federal court has anything to say about it.
Last month, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Erickson’s bracing 12-year sentence for a 36-year-old Minnesota man that included a lifetime of supervision by probation officers and a prohibition against ever consuming alcohol again.
The case is an intriguing study of the authority that federal judges have to forcefully correct what they see as deficiencies in the sentencing guidelines and defendants.
In the case of U.S. v. Darrin Roy Anderson, both deficiencies were, by the judge’s lights, glaringly apparent.
Anderson, a welder from Middle River, Minn., pleaded guilty to using Facebook in August 2009 to lure a 13-year-old girl to a North Dakota motel, where he gave her alcohol and paid her $300 for sex.
According to federal court records, Anderson had spent the previous three years engaging in more than 800 private online chats with adolescent girls, representing himself to be in his teens or early 20s, telling the girls they were “hot,” “smokin’” and “sexy” and sending along inappropriate photographs.
When the time came for sentencing, the judge looked at Anderson’s sentencing prospects under the guidelines — generally six to seven years — and pronounced them nonsensical.
“It makes no sense to have a sentencing scheme that says a child pornography person who trades pictures goes to prison for a decade,” Erickson said. “A person who engages in the chat leading up to an Internet luring offense gets a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
“But someone who crosses states lines to prostitute a 13-year-old following an Internet chat should get seven years or six years? There’s no way that that could be logically explained by any rational human being.”
Erickson’s analysis of the alcohol issue was equally trenchant. He noted that Anderson previously had a DUI, had plied his victim with alcohol and was a member of two Facebook groups — “A Drunk Girls Guide to Social Graces” and “All I want to do is get drunk and take pictures!!!” — that spoke to an unhealthy worldview.
“I also think that this behavior strikes me as indicative of some sort of underlying psychological problem that’s compounded by the use of alcohol, and that whatever the heck else is going on in your life, drinking isn’t going to make it any smarter or any better and so we’re going to put a stop to that forever,” Erickson said.
And forever, for a federal judge, can mean a long dry spell.