Gall pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute "ecstasy," a Schedule I controlled substance, in violation of federal law. The district court imposed a sentence of 36 months of probation and a $100 special assessment. The government appealed the sentence, arguing that it was an unreasonable departure from the federal sentencing guidelines. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence, concluding that it was unreasonable. The Eighth Circuit requires a district court to clearly explain why it imposes a sentence outside of the Guidelines range, requiring it to have "extraordinary" reasons from extraordinary variations from the Guidelines. In this case, the district court made a 100% departure from the Guidelines, since Gall would receive no prison time for an offense for which the Guidelines recommend 30 months incarceration. The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court had not made findings that would justify such an extraordinary variation.
Whether, when determining the “reasonableness” of a district court sentence under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), it is appropriate to require district courts to justify a deviation from the United States Sentencing Guidelines with a finding of extraordinary circumstances.