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Repeat Offenders' Sentences Remanded in Response to Simmons

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 19, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Before August, federal judges in North Carolina were laying down the law, sentencing repeat offenders to more jail time than their offenses warranted.

The reason? Judges were sentencing based on the punishment a “hypothetical” defendant could receive, rather than the punishment an identically-situated defendant should receive.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, tossed the “hypothetical” defendant standard out the window in August, which has led to a flood of sentencing appeals.

The Fourth Circuit, in three separate opinions yesterday, remanded sentencing for repeat offenders to the district courts because district judges had imposed excessive sentences upon the defendants.

In all three cases, U.S. v. Elias Azon, U.S. v. Morey Champion, and U.S. v. Derrick Hamilton, the appellants, who were repeat offenders, were sentenced to longer prison terms than allowed under the sentencing guidelines based on the terms of their prior convictions. The appellants each argued that the Fourth Circuit's holding in U.S. v. Simmons mandated shorter prison terms.

In case you're wondering, there's no pattern in the excessive sentencing or specific judge to avoid: All three appellants were sentenced before the Fourth Circuit issued the Simmons opinion.

If you're representing a repeat offender, prepare to be vigilant during sentencing to avoid excessive jail time. If a judge sentences your client to more jail time that the law permits, get ready to challenge the sentence in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And if your client was sentenced before U.S. v. Simmons was decided, it's time to appeal that sentence.

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