Circuit Takes Judicial Notice Of The Median And Mean Sentences Imposed For The Charged Crimes

In determining whether a defendant, who was deemed not mentally competent to stand trial, could be forcibly medicated to be rendered competent for trial, as one factor, the circuit considered comparable sentences imposed for the changed offenses, in United States v. White, _ F.3d _ (4th Cir. Sept. 22, 2010) (No. 09-7933)

FRE 201 provides for judicial notice without having to provide formal evidentiary proof. Under this process, the court may take judicial notice of the existence of matters that are capable of accurate and ready determination from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. Under FRE 201(f), a court may take judicial notice “at any stage of the proceedings.” The Fourth Circuit recently took judicial notice of sentences imposed for others similarly charged.

In the case, defendant White was charged with conspiracy, credit card fraud and identity theft counts. She was determined not to be mentally competent to stand trial. After refusing efforts to be treated, the government moved the court to determine whether she should be forcibly medicated so she could be competent to stand trial, under the procedures set forth in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003) The trial court granted the order for forcible medication. The defendant filed an interlocutory appeal.

A divided Fourth Circuit reversed the order for forcible medication, under de novo review, after concluding the case did not present the “limited circumstances” in which the Constitution would permit forcible medication. As one factor, the circuit considered “the median and mean sentences imposed for [defendant] White’s charged crimes on a local and national level.” The circuit found the information was “appropriate for judicial notice” since it was “simply a compilation of information available in the public record.” White, _ F.3d at _. The circuit considered data from the Sentencing Commission and concluded that, if convicted, the defendant would likely receive a sentence in the range of 42 to 51 months.
In reversing the trial court, the majority concluded:

If we authorize the government to forcibly medicate White, an all-too-common, non-violent, long-detained defendant, in a case in which several factors strongly militate against forced medication, it would risk making “routine” the kind of drastic resort to forced medication for restoring competency that the Supreme Court gave no hint of approving in Sell.
White, _ F.3d at _.

The judicial notice of sentencing data arose in an unusual procedural posture in White. However, judicial notice of sentences may be more common as part of the criminal sentencing process. One sentencing factor includes “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6). While the Federal Rules of Evidence generally do not apply at sentencing, see FRE 1101(d)(3) (noting the FRE do not apply to sentencing proceedings), the White case may support the judicial notice of sentencing data in criminal sentencing proceedings.

Federal Rules of Evidence