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Fourth Circuit: Sentencing Procedurally Unreasonable Where Special Condition Not Explained and Mitigation Argument Not Addressed

Jamil Lewis, 36, was arrested in his North Carolina residence on state charges involving sexual crimes against a minor. Police discovered a handgun in plain view in his residence, and due to a previous felony conviction, he was charged with possessing a firearm as a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(l) and 924. He pleaded guilty without a plea agreement.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina had received a federal probation office’s presentence report calculating his offense level as 17 and category as VI, with a Sentencing Guidelines range of 51 to 63 months. The report also noted that Lewis denied “ever drinking alcohol or using illicit substances” and no information to the contrary had been found.

Lewis submitted “character” letters from his mother and the mother of one of his children, Sydney Campbell. His mother described him as having “no past criminal history” and gave reasons for mitigation. Campbell wrote that he was a good father who worked to support his family and said his “grave mistake” of committing the sex crime was done because he thought he “was doing the work of the Lord.” She also asked the court to help Lewis with his drug addiction and explained that he used drugs when he was “down, or angry” or “whenever he just can’t seem to get things right.”

At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel argued Lewis should receive a sentence at the low end of the range because he had not committed a serious offense since 2010, maintained employment, and met his obligations to family and church. The prosecutor countered that he was a gang member with a long and violent criminal history who had threatened his family with a gun.

The court mentioned the letters, discounting the mother’s for its false representation of his criminal history, and expressed confusion about Campbell’s “religion-based excuse for Lewis’s sexual misconduct.” The court described them as “not helpful” for sentencing purposes.

The court sentenced Lewis to 63 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, explaining that Lewis had many juvenile convictions that were not being factored into calculating the range and said the sentence was needed to reflect Lewis’ dangerousness, protect the public from him, and promote respect for the law.

The court recommended that he be given “the most intensive drug treatment or treatment for addiction or dependency that the Bureau [of Prisons] can make available. It also imposed a special condition of supervised release requiring him “to participate in a treatment program for addiction or dependency.” Aided by Assistant Federal Public Defender Jaclyn L. DiLauro and Federal Public Defender G. Alan DuBois, Lewis appealed.

The Fourth Circuit noted that a district court is required to give an explanation for a sentence even when it falls within the Guidelines range and must also address a defendant’s nonfrivolous mitigation arguments. Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38 (2007). The Court explained that these requirements also apply to any special conditions of supervised released. United States v. McMiller, 954 F.3d 670 (4th Cir. 2020).

In this case, the district court abused its discretion when it failed to explain the special condition, which could only have been based on Campbell’s discounted letter, and failed to address defense counsel’s mitigation arguments, the Court concluded. Therefore, the Court ruled that the sentence was procedurally unreasonable.

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Related legal case

United States v. Lewis



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