Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for July 11

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Ignatovich

Timothy Ignatovich moved for compassionate release from his 216-month federal prison sentence. The motion was based on a comparison with the 179-month national average federal sentence for kidnapping convictions, his efforts at rehabilitation and his release plan. The district court denied relief and Ignatovich appealed. Exercising jurisdiction, the 10th Circuit affirmed.

According to the opinion, the district court may grant compassionate release if it finds that “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant” a reduced sentence; a “reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements” from the sentencing commission; and a reduction is warranted after considering the applicable sentencing factors, according to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Maumau. A district court may deny compassionate release, the opinion noted, if it finds that any of these requirements are lacking. The 10th Circuit Court addressed only the first requirement.

Ignatovich pled guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping, kidnapping of children and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court sentenced him to 216 months in prison. The district court denied his compassionate release request for failure to show extraordinary and compelling reasons. It found that his sentence, even with a two-level downward departure, was commensurate with the national average because it accounted for enhancements based on multiple convictions, the age and vulnerability of the victims and his criminal history. The court found his efforts at rehabilitation weren’t extraordinary or compelling and his release planning, which included care for his infirm parents, was also insufficient, the 10th Circuit noted.

The 10th Circuit reviewed for an abuse of discretion, which occurs when a district court relies on an incorrect legal conclusion or a clearly erroneous factual finding. Ignatovich didn’t show that the district court abused its discretion, the appeals panel found.

In his brief, Ignatovich argued the district court violated “horizontal stare decisis” because it did not credit the “multiple cases” he cited “from district courts in the Tenth Circuit” that granted sentence reductions for “identical reasons” presented here. The only case he discusses in his brief was United States v. Rivas, which he asserted bore “striking similarities” to his case. The 10th Circuit disagreed based on one significant difference.

In Rivas, the “defendant was charged with two counts of armed carjacking and two counts of using, carrying, discharging, or possessing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c).” He pled “guilty to the two 924(c) charges and was sentenced to 10 years on the first charge and 25 years on the second charge to run consecutive, as was then required by statute.” In seeking a sentence reduction, Rivas, like Ignatovich, pointed to “his youth at the time of sentencing, the length of sentence, and his rehabilitative efforts,” and his wish to take care of infirm parents. But unlike this case, a significant factor in Rivas was that Rivas “was sentenced to a lengthy term due to 924(c)’s stacking provision which has since been eliminated” by the First Step Act. The district court reduced Rivas’s sentence to 276 months. No comparable changes have been made to the sentencing requirements for kidnapping, the opinion noted.

Ignatovich also argued that the cumulative reasons he presented for sentence reduction, including the national average sentence for kidnapping, “gang disassociation, substantial assistance, rehabilitation, family circumstances, and being over the age of 35,” satisfied 3582(c)(1)(A)(i)’s “extraordinary and compelling reasons” requirement. But as the district court determined, his reliance on the average kidnapping sentence of 176 months was misplaced as a comparator because his 216-month sentence, even with departures, reflected enhancements for multiple convictions, age and vulnerability of the victims and his criminal history. Beyond that, the 10th Circuit saw no abuse of discretion in the district court’s determination that the other reasons Ignatovich proffered weren’t extraordinary and compelling.

A 10th Circuit panel out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, affirmed the district court decision and denied Ignatovich’s motion to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis, noting the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision Buchheit v. Green.

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