Sentencing issues are raised frequently at both the federal district court and court of appeals level. We discuss below a pair of noteworthy decisions regarding sentencing in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
In Halloway v. United States, No. 01-CV-1017 (E.D.N.Y. May 14, 2014), Judge John Gleeson pressured the government to agree to reopen the sentencing of a defendant was sentenced to 57 years in prison after rejecting a plea bargain of 130-147 months for stealing three cars at gunpoint. The reason for the difference between the offered plea and the sentence after conviction was “stacking,” where a defendant receives the mandatory minimum penalty for each violation of which he or she is convicted, but then the sentences are stacked—that is, they run consecutively rather than concurrently. As Judge Gleeson’s opinion notes, the Sentencing Commission has asked Congress to amend Section 924(c) to eliminate the practice of stacking, so that increased mandatory minimums apply only to prior convictions as opposed to multiple violations of the same statute in the same indictment.
To address his concern over the effect of stacking in this case, Judge Gleeson asked the Government to reconsider its decision not to agree to vacate two or more of defendant’s convictions, suggesting that the court might be receptive to challenge by the defendant to the severity of his sentence.
The following day, May 15, 2014, the Second Circuit issued a decision in United States v. Lockhart, Docket No. 13-602-CR, affirming an EDNY interpretation of a child pornography statute, finding that the mandatory minimum sentence for possessing child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2) applied to a defendant who “was previously convicted under state law of a crime relating to sexual abuse,” even though the prior conviction did not involve a minor. In reaching that decision, the Second Circuit made an in-depth analysis of 18 U.S.C. § 2252 using several different canons of statutory construction. That analysis is worth reading as an example of the tools used by courts to resolve potential ambiguities in statutory language.