The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had to decide Thursday whether the sentencing of a man under the 2011 Sentencing Guidelines for child pornography offenses that took place over the course of seven years created constitutional problems since different guidelines were in place when he committed the crimes.
The judges unanimously decided that any error by the District Court in sentencing Randall Ray Fletcher Jr. to a 30-year term in prison with lifetime supervised release was harmless, and they affirmed his sentence in United States of America v. Randall Ray Fletcher Jr., 12-3104.
Fletcher pleaded guilty to five charges of child pornography: Counts I, II, and III alleged the offense took place in 2002; Count IV alleged the offense occurred between November 2004 and July 2006; and Count V alleged the offense occurred between November 2004 and May 2009. He was sentenced in August 2012, when the Nov. 1, 2011 Sentencing Guidelines were in effect. The District judge grouped Counts II-V together when sentencing Fletcher. The guidelines range for all of the counts, when combined with his criminal history category of IV, was life imprisonment. That exceeded the statutory maximum for all of the offenses, so the judge sentenced Fletcher to 240 months on Count I and an aggregate of 240 months on the rest of the counts, to be served concurrently.
Fletcher appeals, claiming he should have been sentenced under previous versions of the sentencing guidelines because he committed the crimes prior to when the 2011 version took effect. He argued this is a violation of the ex post facto clause. The previous versions of the sentencing guidelines were not as severe.
“[T]he application of the newer, harsher version of the guidelines to grouped offenses that straddle an amendment poses no ex post facto problem because the grouping guidelines together with one book rule provide adequate notice to defendants that they will face the harsher version of the guidelines if they choose to continue a course of conduct after the guidelines are amended,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote.
Counts II through V were grouped together at sentencing and Fletcher did not object to that, the judge pointed out.
After looking at Count I, the judges decided that any error related to Count I is harmless. The earlier version of the guidelines would give the count, when factoring in his criminal history category of IV, a sentencing range of 292-365 months. The low end of this range exceeds statutory maximum, just as it did under the District Court’s calculation under the 2011 guidelines. As a result, the statutorily authorized maximum sentence under the 2001 guidelines is the guidelines sentence, which brings it down to 240 months – the same range the District Court calculated under the 2011 guidelines.
“Because the court was constrained by the statutory maximum under either version of the guidelines, any error in calculating the range for Count I could not have affected the District Court’s choice of a sentence and thus any possible error was harmless,” she wrote.