Armstrong sentencing delayed until Jan. 25

A sentencing hearing for former state Rep. Joe Armstrong, originally scheduled for Nov. 30, has been postponed until Jan. 25 by U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips, reports the News Sentinel.

A separate hearing is set for Dec. 12, when the judge will hear arguments from the prosecutors and defense attorney Gregory Issacs over the contents of a report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office that will have considerable impact on Armstrong’s sentence. The report is being kept confidential insofar as the public goes.

Armstrong, a 28-year veteran of the Legislature, was convicted in U.S. District Court in August of filing an income tax return that made no mention of the $321,000 windfall he made when he used Knoxville tobacco wholesaler Tru Wholesale to buy cigarette tax stamps for him at the 2006 rate of 20 cents per pack and then sell them after a 42-cent hike went into effect in 2007. Armstrong voted for the tax hike.

Failing to file a false tax return carries a maximum three-year prison term, but in the federal system those “statutory maximums” are often practically useless, a worst-case scenario rarely imposed. The true penalty range is determined via a mathematical formula laid out in federal sentencing guidelines that look to a defendant’s prior criminal history, the level and type of crime, and his or her specific role and behavior in the crime at issue.

Armstrong has no criminal history. The crime itself is low on the guidelines’ totem pole. He likely is eligible for probation, which Isaacs has made clear in post-trial interviews he will seek. (Assistant U.S. Attormey Charles) Atchley, on the other hand, has made it equally clear he wants Armstrong to go to prison.

The U.S. Probation Office is tasked with investigating all the factors that go into establishing a penalty range, and that office’s work is kept under seal throughout the case. Only the judge, the defendant and the prosecutor can see it. Armstrong’s penalty range is in that report, but it’s filed under seal so the public can’t see it. Both Atchley and Isaacs are attacking some portion of the report via motions filed in U.S. District Court but those, too, are being kept under seal.

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