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A Night To Remember

Eleventh Circuit: Time Served Adjustment Is Mandatory Under Sentencing Guidelines Even After Booker

Christopher Henry pleaded guilty in Alabama state court to stealing eight firearms during a business burglary. Because of his prior convictions – one for assault and 10 for burglary – he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Two years later, Henry pleaded guilty in federal court to being a felon in possession of a firearm – based on his theft of the firearms. His presentencing investigation report showed a Guidelines range of 130 to 162 months but was reduced to the statutory maximum for his crime, 120 months. The court sentenced him to 108 months. 

Henry requested a downward adjustment of his sentence for the 24 months he had already served on the state burglary conviction pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5Gl.3(b)(l). Citing his lengthy criminal history, the court declined to adjust the sentence. When Henry objected that the adjustment was mandatory because of the use of “shall” in the section, the court replied that, “Congress gets to say ‘shall,’ but the Sentencing Commission doesn’t get to say ‘shall.’”

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit noted that § 5Gl.3(b)(l) specifically states that “the court shall adjust the sentence for any period of imprisonment already served on the undischarged term of imprisonment if the court determines that such period of confinement will not be credited to the federal sentence by the Bureau of Prisons.” The Court ruled that use of  the term “shall” makes the adjustment mandatory provided the defendant has served time on a related, undischarged state sentence that the Bureau of Prisons is not going to credit toward the federal sentence.

The Court noted that there was no dispute as to whether the section’s requirements had been met. The only dispute was whether Booker rendered the Sentencing Guidelines advisory, as some circuits have held or implied.

The Court explained that the Booker Court concluded that the practice of judges finding facts during sentencing that increased the mandatory sentencing range under the Guidelines violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine fact issues. To remedy this, a separate majority of the Booker Court invalidated 18 U.S.C. § 3553(b)(l), which made the Guidelines’ sentencing range mandatory. The Booker Court ruled that the sentencing range was always advisory.

The Court ruled that Booker made the sentencing range advisory but did not also make all other provisions of the Guidelines advisory. Specifically, sentencing requirements that do not enhance a sentence based on judicial factfinding or impose a sentence within the Guidelines range are still binding on sentencing courts provided they do not conflict with federal statute or the Constitution, according to the Court. According to the Court, § 5Gl.3(b)(l) is one such requirement.

The Court explained that § 5Gl.3(b)(l) does not affect the Guidelines range. Instead, the judge sentences (inside or outside the range) then adjusts the sentence according to the section. Since this does not affect the Guidelines range, it remains mandatory even after Booker.

Related legal case

United States v. Henry

 

 

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