You may spend a significant amount of time on lawn maintenance, particularly if you live in a nice suburban neighborhood. You may assiduously water, trim bushes, and weed. You may rightly be proud of the results. No matter how much you care, though, it’s likely not as much as Rene Boucher, who was so concerned about a neighbor’s yard trash that he was willing to commit assault. It was, at a minimum, a failure of perspective, priorities and common sense. Particularly when you consider that the neighbor he attacked is U.S. Senator Rand Paul.
According to a recent U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, however, it was more than just a typical assault by an overstressed homeowner. It was a felony under 18 U.S.C. §351(e) and subject to federal sentencing guidelines. And in a September 9 decision, the Sixth Circuit unanimously vacated the district court’s previous light sentence and remanded.
A Bad Idea
Boucher made a running, full-on tackle of Kentucky’s junior senator after becoming incensed over his neighbor’s repeated placement of a bundle of sticks, tree limbs and other yard debris at the property line. Senator Paul suffered considerable injury in the attack, including six broken ribs.
While unarmed assaults involving property disputes are not typically matters for federal prosecutors, of course, federal law does offer specific punishments for assaults on members of Congress and the judiciary. Here, federal prosecutors took over, and Boucher ultimately pleaded guilty to a federal crime.
Days . . . or Years?
After pleading guilty, Boucher implored the district court for a lenient sentence. Boucher’s counsel argued, among other things, that a felony conviction was punishment enough considering Boucher’s standing in the community.
Despite guidelines that called for a 21 to 27-month sentence, the district court judge appeared to be swayed, and sentenced Boucher to 30 days. Various rationales accompanied the light sentence. The attack was not political, but a crime of impulse. Boucher is in his 60s, a doctor with no previous criminal record. He is a practicing Catholic whose priest testified on his behalf. He served in the military.
OK, but You Assaulted a Senator
Good for you, reasoned the Sixth Circuit, but none of those things are grounds for a deviance from the sentencing guidelines. While motive can be a factor, the district court judge did not account for the serious injuries Boucher inflicted. Nor does a 30-day sentence adequately deter future such crimes.
Further, Congress has specifically made it inappropriate for a judge to consider education, employment and family and community ties in deviating from federal guidelines. Otherwise, a privileged defendant may become even more privileged through favored court treatment.
While Boucher may have received a 30-day sentence for Fourth Degree Misdemeanor Assault under Kentucky law, he didn’t plead guilty to that. The potential sentence under a state crime is not a factor when determining sentencing under federal guidelines.
The District Court Still Has Discretion
Of course, Boucher may still get less than 21 months. Here, however, the Sixth Circuit found that a 95% reduction in sentence was substantively unreasonable, considering the factors the district court used.
Senator Paul, who appeared on local radio on September 10, applauded the decision, saying that most people would think a 30 day sentence was too light.