Though sentencing and interpreting mandatory minimums are routine tasks for judges, some courts just don't get it right. On Monday, the Seventh Circuit vacated a defendant's sentence because of two procedural errors made by the district court.
Anthony Lyons was a passenger in a known felon's car when the car was pulled over. The driver had tried to flee arrest on two previous occasions; that, together with Lyons' nervousness, gave officers a reasonable suspicion to search Lyons. As the search began, Lyons admitted to possessing a gun, which officers found.
At trial, Lyons' motion to suppress the gun was denied, and he was convicted of being in possession of a firearm as a felon. He was sentenced as an Armed Career Criminal pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 924, because of three prior drug offense convictions. Under 18 U.S.C. 3583, the district court also sentenced him to five years of supervised release.
On appeal, Lyons challenged his conviction and sentencing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction, but vacated his sentence, and remanded for resentencing, finding that the district court made two procedural errors in the sentencing phase.
First, the district court sentenced Lyons to five years supervised release under the impression that it was the minimum statutorily prescribed sentence, when in fact, it was the maximum.
Second, the court found that the district court did not explain the reason for imposing the particular sentence. The Seventh Circuit noted its own precedent and quoted: "A sentencing court commits procedural error by not adequately explaining its choice of sentence." The court elaborated that recitation of boilerplate was not sufficient, and that "[w]ithout this explanation, 'meaningful appellate review' of the sentence's reasonableness is impossible."
This decision serves as a lesson to district courts to be thorough and clear in their sentencing. Otherwise, we just end up wasting resources as sentences are appealed, vacated and remanded for resentencing.
- Break Plea, Flee to Mexico, Get Below-Guidelines Sentence, Appeal (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- 7th Takes a Stab at Defining Leadership, Jab at Sentencing Comm'n (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- Judge Posner Trusts Judges' Sentence Enhancement Instincts (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)