(CN) - A federal judge should not have let a white-collar criminal go free on probation because of the temporary government shutdown, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block had done just that in sentencing Young Park on Oct. 11, 2013, as the federal government's first partial government shutdown
in 17 years stretched into its second week.
Park, who had prior fraud convictions, was before the judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., after pleading guilty to filing a false corporation tax return.
Block said he had reconsidered imprisoning Park based on "economic problems."
"I'm going to say that I would probably give a period of incarceration if not for the financial pressures that the court has, the court system and the government has," Block said, as transcribed in the ruling. "Especially low-level federal employees at the present time. And we really can't afford the luxury of paying another $28,000 to keep this person in jail under the circumstances and I encourage you to appeal."
Park was sentenced to three years' probation, including six months' house arrest.
"I'm making the record that I am not going to put him in jail only because of the economic plight that we are facing today," Block said.
The shutdown ended on Oct. 16, and the Manhattan-based federal appeals court vacated Park's sentence Wednesday after finding that Block had committed "procedural error."
"First, the only sentencing factor the District Court deemed relevant was the cost of incarceration to the government and the economic problems allegedly caused by the government shut-down," the unsigned opinion by a three-judge panel states. "Second, and equally problematic, is that the cost of incarceration to the government - the court's sole justification for imposing a term of probation rather than incarceration - is not a relevant sentencing factor under the applicable statutes."
Block also committed substantive error in Park's sentencing, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
"A term of imprisonment was in fact minimally sufficient to fulfill the statutory mandated sentencing objectives, rendering a probationary term unsupportable as a matter of law," the 16-page opinion states.
Judges Jose Cabranes, Susan Carney and Christopher Droney made up the panel.