Federal court addresses resentencing issue

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A federal appellate court’s general remand for resentencing doesn’t necessarily mean a defendant will receive a lesser penalty or be able to introduce new arguments, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

Issuing a 23-page opinion in United States of America v. Marlyn J. Barnes and Melvin B. Taylor, Nos. 11-1261, 11-1602, the federal Circuit panel tackled an issue that few courts have yet addressed since a key ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States came down in March.

In this case from the Northern District of Indiana, the appellate court examined a case that was before it for a second time after a panel in 2010 remanded for resentencing. The government in 2006 had indicted and charged Marlyn Barnes, Melvin Taylor and others with conspiring to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Barnes and Taylor were also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. The two defendants in this case were the only two who proceeded to trial, and in separate trials, a jury convicted them on both counts. Barnes received a 292-month sentence with enhancements while Taylor received a 188-month sentence, and both appealed.

On first appeal, the 7th Circuit vacated those sentences and remanded because the judges found inconsistent facts that didn’t justify the sentences, and that the penalties appeared to be disparate when compared to the other co-conspirators.

At resentencing, Judge Theresa Springmann waived several new arguments that Barnes tried to raise and found he should have raised them during his first appeal. She factored in evidence that had been submitted post-trial and again sentenced him to 292 months. For Taylor, the judge resentenced him to 188 months as before after dismissing as waived the new arguments he tried to raise.

Both appealed, arguing that they were entitled to the District Court’s consideration of any and all arguments they might raise on resentencing. Specifically, they argued the SCOTUS ruling from March in Pepper v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 1229 (2011), required this because any appellate court’s general remand erases the original sentencing proceeding and any issues of waiver.

The 7th Circuit disagreed, and found the District judge’s revised sentences remained within the guidelines and are proper.

“We conclude that, upon a general remand for re-sentencing, a district court may permit new arguments and evidence as it deems necessary to re-fashion its sentence,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote for a panel that included Judges Michael Kanne and David Hamilton. “General remand does not, however, entitle the defendants to present new arguments and evidence beyond that pertinent to the issues raised on appeal. Allowing a district court to freely balance already and properly raised arguments to preserve or revise its sentencing objectives does not equate to carte blanche for defendants to raise new arguments unrelated to the issues raised on appeal.”

The judges noted that the SCOTUS hasn’t yet defined the scope of its Pepper holding and that no court has concluded Pepper operates to abolish waiver in the context of resentencing. They didn’t address the question of whether a District court must consider post-sentencing rehabilitation on a general remand, and left that for another day.


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