Court Says Judge Could Impose Harsher Sentence After Successful Appeal

United States v. Singletary, No. 21-4351, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 19775 (4th Cir. Aug. 1, 2023)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that a sentencing judge wasn’t vindictive during resentencing when she considered a prisoner’s bad conduct in prison, plus the various facts of a state case that was resolved after he was originally sentenced in state court. (Warning: This is a little scary but thankfully it’s rare.)

Christopher Singletary was sentenced in 2019 to 13 years but successfully challenged his supervised release conditions on appeal. Instead of vacating the supervised release part of the sentence, the Fourth Circuit remanded for a full resentencing. That was bad for Singletary because, since his 2019 sentencing, he’s had a lot of bad things happen. First, he pled guilty to pending charges in state court and got 13 years or so running concurrent with his federal sentence. He also had at least 15 serious disciplinary reports in prison (weapons charges, sexual misconduct, threatening staff, etc.).

Citing these developments, the government argued for a consecutive sentence at resentencing – and got what they asked for, and then some.

The judge said she was “tremendously concerned” with Singletary’s behavior in prison so far and the facts of his state case that came out after he was sentenced in federal court the first time. She said she needed to remove Singletary from society for as long as possible and handed him 13 ½ years in federal prison, to be served consecutively to his state sentence.

So, he started with 13 years and ended up with more than 26 years with the resentencing. Was this vindictive? While the Supreme Court has said that a judge cannot hand down a harsher sentence in retaliation for a successful appeal, it has also held that facts that come to light after the original sentencing used to impose an increased sentence at resentencing is not vindictiveness on the part of the sentencing judge.

Because the sentencing judge gave detailed reasons for her increased sentence at the resentencing, the Fourth Circuit concluded that she was not being vindictive.

I bring this up because lots of people ask me if they can get more time in prison (i.e., a longer sentence) if they successfully challenge their case on appeal or in a postconviction action. As this case points out, it can happen. Yes, it’s rare and the court must provide a very good reason for a harsher sentence, but it’s a risk in certain situations that some people may not want to take.

So, who should think twice before challenging their case? Obviously, anyone who falls into Singletary’s situation, with a bad prison record and more criminal conduct put into the record since sentencing. And a vindictive prosecutor doesn’t help. (And we wonder why people don’t trust the DOJ!)

A good lawyer will look at these factors before recommending an appeal or postconviction challenge. If you don’t have the luxury of a having good lawyer, or you’re going on your own as most prisoners do, then have a trusted person take an objective look at your circumstances and see if you might be at risk. In other words, don’t look for someone who will tell you what you want to hear; look for someone who will tell you the truth.

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