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Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
Powell v. United States, No. 94-8842
(Argued the cause for petitioner Powell)
(Argued the cause for petitioner Koon)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

Petitioners Stacey C. Koon and Laurence M. Powell, Los Angeles police officers, were acquitted on state charges of assault and excessive use of force in the beating of Rodney King during an arrest. They were convicted under 18 U. S. C. Section 242 of violating the victim's constitutional rights under color of law. Although the applicable U.S. Sentencing Guideline, 1992 USSG Section 2H1.4, indicated that they should be imprisoned for 70 to 87 months, the District Court granted them two downward departures from that range. The first was based on the victim's misconduct, which significantly contributed to provoking the offense. The second was based on a combination of four factors: (1) that the petitioners were unusually susceptible to abuse in prison; (2) that the petitioners would lose their jobs and be precluded from employment in law enforcement; (3) that the petitioners had been subject to successive state and federal prosecutions; and (4) that the petitioners posed a low risk of recidivism. The sentencing range after the departures was 30 to 37 months, and the court sentenced each petitioner to 30 months. The Court of Appeals reviewed the departure decisions utilizing a de novo standard and rejected all of them.


Did the Court of Appeals use the wrong standard in deciding whether a federal trial judge had erred in departing from the federal Sentencing Guidelines and giving lighter sentences to two ex-policemen convicted in the beating of Rodney King?

Decision: 5 votes for Koon, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U.S.C. App.

Yes. In an opinion delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held that the Court of Appeals should not review de novo a decision to depart from the Guideline sentencing range, but instead should ask whether the sentencing court abused its discretion. Furthermore, because the Court of Appeals erred in rejecting certain of the downward departure factors relied upon by the District Judge, wrote Justice Kennedy, significant parts of the appellate court's rulings require reversal.

Cite this Page
KOON v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1664>.
KOON v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1664 (last visited August 27, 2015).
"KOON v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 27, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1664.