Thursday, December 18, 2014

Change in law after sentencing would likely have resulted in lesser sentence

US v. Archie - In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit reviewed two sentencing issues: 1) whether the district court sentenced the defendant in violation of the 6th Amendment as set forth in Alleyne; and 2) whether the district court relied incorrectly on insufficient evidence in enhancing the defendant’s sentence under ACCA.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Appellant Sherwin Archie pleaded guilty to charges arising from his part in the armed robbery of a Family Dollar store.  In anticipation of sentencing, the Probation Officer drafted a PSR, designating Archie an armed career criminal, based on three prior felony convictions: 1977 3rd degree robbery conviction from New York; 1983 attempted burglary conviction from New York; and a 1994 conviction from North Carolina for assault.  There was also evidence that Archie “brandished” a weapon in the armed robbery, and the district court made a judicial finding of brandishing, which raised the statutory minimum for Archie’s sentence.

Archie’s main issue on appeal is whether he waived the right to argue that his sentence was improperly enhanced by the district court’s determination that he brandished a weapon during the armed robbery, with the appellate waiver in his plea agreement.  Archie’s sentencing occurred just prior to the publication of the Supreme Court’s case Alleyne, which held that because mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for crimes, any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an “element” of the crime that must be submitted to a jury.  

The Fourth Circuit found that, at the time of Archie’s sentencing, that the district court correctly applied the law that judicial factfinding that increases a mandatory minimum was permissible under the 6th Amendment.  Even though Alleyne soon overruled this position, the post-sentencing change in the law did not invalidate Archie’s appeal waiver, according to the Fourth Circuit.  The panel determined that Archie assumed the risk that the law under which he was sentenced could change later on, and that Archie’s appeal issue was buyer’s remorse.  Further, the Fourth Circuit has invalidated some appellate waivers in the past, but it chose not to do so here because the sentencing court did not violate “a fundamental constitutional or statutory right that was firmly established at the time of sentencing.”  

Next, Archie argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove the existence of the 1977 3rd degree robbery conviction, as the court had relied upon computerized records to establish the fact of this conviction.  Of the four records the district court considered, one of the records had an inconsistent date.  The district court disagreed and determined that the records provided established by a preponderance the conviction.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit determined that it had previously considered the issue of what records a district court may consider in determining the fact of a prior conviction and that certified computer printouts, such as the ones submitted here by the Government, were sufficient to prove the fact of a prior conviction.

(Decided November 17, 2014).

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