Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Court Affirms Stat Max Sentence for Illegal Reentry

US v. Rivera-Santana: Rivera-Santana was born in Mexico and came to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1973. Between 1974 and 1983 he was convicted of several minor offenses. In 1988, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of his wife. After his sentence was served and he was paroled, Rivera-Santana was deported. Afterwards, he was involved in a cycle of entry into the US/deportation/illegal entry. In 2005, he reentered US and went to Virginia to live with family. While there, he was convicted of sexually assaulting his granddaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison (all but 82 months suspended). While in state custody, he was charged with illegal reentry in federal court. He entered a guilty plea.

The PSR calculated Rivera-Santana's sentencing range to be 57 to 71 months in prison. However, the Government argued for a variance to the statutory maximum of 240 months in prison. At sentencing, the district court first departed, increasing Rivera-Santana's criminal history category and offense level. However, the court concluded that the resulting range (120 to 150 months) was still not sufficient to achieve the purposes of sentencing. Thus, after weighing the 3553(a) factors, the district court varied up to the statutory maximum and imposed a 240-month sentence because Rivera-Santana was a "menace" and "a proven danger to the public" and "in short, an anathema to society."

Rivera-Santana appealed, arguing that his sentence was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. The Fourth Circuit turned away those challenges. Starting with the procedural challenges, the court first concluded that there was no procedural error in the district court's departures after the application of the illegal reentry Guideline's 16-level enhancement due to Rivera-Santana's prior convictions. Second, the court concluded that, while neither of the upward departures appeared to be improper, any error was harmless due to the district court's eventual variance. Third, the court concluded that the district court did not err by failing to proceed level-by-level during the departure process, noting that the district court nonetheless "employed a well reasoned process." Finally, as to the procedural issues, the court concluded that the district court did consider the mitigating factors presented at sentencing, but found them "entirely insufficient to outweigh the aggravating factors." As to the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court concluded that, in spite of the scope of the variance, it was based on a detailed individualized analysis of the 3553(a) factors and therefore was not unreasonable, in light of those factors.


Anonymous said...

A 240 month sentence, while lengthy, is not the same thing as a "life sentence."

Jonathan Byrne said...

Thank you for catching that, Anonymous. Correction made.

Although, I will note, that part of the argument by the defense in this case was that, due to the defendant's age, the 240-month sentence was a de facto life sentence. It didn't really play any role in the analysis, however.