Friday, January 18, 2019

Failure to Explain Sentence In Face of Defense Arguments Not Harmless Error

USv. Ross: Ross was convicted of three counts involving child pornography. At sentencing, Ross asked for a 60-month sentence (the applicable mandatory minimum), to be run concurrently to his 120-month state sentence, while the Government argued for a 120-month sentence to run consecutively to the state sentence. The district court adopted the Government’s requested sentence. The district court also imposed a lifetime term of supervised release.

The Fourth Circuit vacated Ross’ sentence because it was procedurally unreasonable. Specifically, the district court failed to adequately explain its reasoning for imposing the sentence it did and, in the process, failed to respond to Ross’ non-frivolous arguments for a lower sentence regarding “mental health issues” that “caused him to appear to lack remorse.” Nor did it address his history of employment, caretaking role for his aging mother, and the “relatively small amount of illicit material” involved in the case. Nor was the error harmless. The court also concluded that the district court failed to explain why it imposed the conditions of supervised release it did, particularly given the lifetime term of supervised release.

Congrats to the Defender office in Maryland for the win!

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