Federal appeals court orders stiffer drug sentence on Red Lake Reservation 5-3-07

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Red Lake man who pleaded guilty to distributing large amounts of powder and crack cocaine on the Red Lake Indian Reservation should receive a stiffer sentence than he was given, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The three-judge panel on Wednesday ordered that the federal judge in Minneapolis should give a stiffer sentence to Todd Douglas Miller, 26.

Miller pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine on the reservation two years ago. He admitted having 26.4 grams of the drug when he was arrested, and stipulated that he had distributed between 500 and 2,000 grams as part of a conspiracy. As part of the plea deal, conspiracy and drug possession charges were dropped.

In June, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis sentenced Miller to one year of home detention and three years of probation, saying Miller had spent eight-and-a-half months in jail while the case was pending.

Government prosecutors appealed the sentence, saying it was too light. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between 37 and 46 months in prison. Miller's sentence was a 77 percent departure from the low end of the guidelines.

In outlining reasons for the sentence, Davis noted Miller's time in jail, the fact that he got a job after his release, had earned his high school equivalency diploma and enrolled in college. Davis also noted Miller respected court orders and showed remorse.

Eighth Circuit Judge Lavenski Smith, of Little Rock, Ark., wrote the opinion for the panel, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Eighth Circuit Judge Roger Wollman of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Smith wrote that Davis' decision was unreasonable, and that Davis didn't put enough weight to the seriousness of Miller's crimes and the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities.

“The sentence imposed also does not adequately promote respect for federal drug laws, provide just punishment, or ensure adequate deterrence to drug dealers,” he wrote.

One of Miller's lawyers, Dan Scott, said Davis had done precisely what he was supposed to do when he departed from the guidelines. “He struck a balance that said, 'We can save this kid,”' Scott said.