Judges uphold man’s 151-month sentence

Jennifer Nelson
February 7, 2013
A judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals believed a defendant was entitled to resentencing because the District judge could only view him through “career-offender tinted glasses” even though the career offender distinction did not ultimately apply to him.

A judge on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals believed a defendant was entitled to resentencing because the District judge could only view him through “career-offender tinted glasses” even though the career offender distinction did not ultimately apply to him.

Bernard Hawkins appealed the denial of his motion under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 to set aside his sentence because there’s a question of whether an error in calculating the applicable guideline sentencing range can be correct in a post-conviction proceeding since the guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory. In 2003, he assaulted two U.S. Marshals trying to arrest him for failure to attend a court hearing while on supervised release.

At the time of his sentencing, he was considered a career offender because he had two “walkaway” escape convictions. He was sentenced to 151 months by Judge James Moody, the bottom of the guideline range. If he wasn’t considered a career offender, the guideline range for the assault would have been anywhere from 15 to 30 months.

The 7th Circuit ordered Hawkins resentenced after United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), which declared the guidelines as advisory instead of mandatory. Moody gave him the same 151-month sentence. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court held in United States v. Chambers, 555 U.S. 122, 127-30 (2009), that a "walkaway" escape conviction isn't a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. That ruling led to this appeal.

The majority found this case distinguishable from Navarez v. United States, 674 F.3d 621, (7th Cir. 2011) a very similar case in with Navarez was entitled to sentence relief on his post-conviction motion, because Navarez had been sentenced when the guidelines were mandatory and Hawkins was resentenced under the advisory guidelines.

“If we ordered resentencing, the judge could reimpose the identical sentence. The defendant’s criminal record would justify the judge’s doing that,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the majority in Bernard Hawkins v. United States of America, 11-1245.  

Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner dissented, finding the court’s rationale for reaching the opposite conclusion in this case as compared to Navarez as “illusory.” Like Navarez, Hawkins was seen as a career offender before Moody on resentencing, even if the law didn’t impose that label on him anymore.

“… I would reverse … and remand to the District Court to allow Mr. Hawkins to stand before it without the errantly imposed black mark of a career offender,” she wrote.