Judge who appeared determined to avoid mandatory sentence is removed from case
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A judge who appeared determined to impose a reduced sentence on a woman who cooperated in a sexual exploitation prosecution has been removed from the case.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York removed U.S. District Judge David Hurd of the Northern District of New York from the case of Hillary Trimm after he sentenced her to five years in prison, Law360 reports.
Hurd had previously imposed a seven-and-a-half-year sentence but was reversed in an earlier appeal.
“Without implying any personal criticism of the district court,” the appeals court said in a June 2 per curiam opinion, “we conclude that this is one of those rare cases in which ‘both for the judge’s sake and the appearance of justice, an assignment to a different judge’” is in the public interest.
The government had recommended more than 17 years in prison for Trimm, representing a downward departure from the guidelines sentence because of Trimm’s cooperation in the prosecution of another defendant. But the government did not go further to invoke a statute, Section 3553(e) of the federal sentencing law, which gives courts authority to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum, which was 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors had pointed out that Hurd’s testimony against defendant Stacey J. LaPorte Jr. of New York was not needed to prove five of six counts against him. The judge’s sentencing departure “oversells the value of Trimm’s cooperation and leads to unwarranted sentencing disparity” with regard to another defendant who testified against LaPorte, the government alleged.
Trimm had pleaded guilty to using a minor female to engage in sexually explicit conduct to make visual depictions of the conduct.
At her change-of-plea hearing, Trimm admitted into entering an agreement with LaPorte regarding the sexual abuse of Trimm’s daughter, who was not yet 12 months old at the time, the court said in a footnote. Trimm admitted taking videos of herself performing sexual acts with her daughter and sending them to LaPorte. LaPorte also abused the infant sexually, with Trimm’s assistance, the court said.
LaPorte was sentenced to 95 years in prison, according to news coverage in May 2019.
Before imposing the first seven-and-a-half-year sentence in Trimm’s case, Hurd ordered the government to make the Section 3553(e) motion. When the government declined, Hurd deemed the motion to have been made, without finding that the government acted in bad faith or with an unconstitutional motive.
Before Hurd imposed the new five-year sentence in June 2020, he again ordered the government to make the Section 3553(e) motion. Hurd concluded that the government had acted with an unconstitutional motive to limit the court’s sentencing discretion when it didn’t make the motion, and it acted in bad faith. The lower sentence also partly reflected Trimm’s efforts at rehabilitation in prison.
Hurd is an appointee of former President Bill Clinton. The judges on the per curiam panel were all GOP appointees, including Judge Steven Menashi, an appointee of former President Donald Trump.