High Court Divided in Rejecting Inmate’s Case

     (CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the case of a man who claims he unlawfully sentenced for a drug crime while incarcerated because of the admission of inaccurate testimony.
     Roy Elbert Carlton was convicted of possession of marijuana while incarcerated in a federal prison, and sentenced to 27 months. In handing down that sentence, the district court applied enhancements under U.S. code – one being that the object of the offense was to distribute the pot in prison; the other that he use or attempted to use a minor as part of the scheme.
     Carlton appealed the sentence, arguing the district court erred by admitting erroneous information at his information sentencing.
     Uncontested were that when Carlton’s minor children and their mother, Whitney Anderson, visited him in prison, they did so with packets of marijuana hidden in their clothing. At his sentencing for possession of the contraband, prosecutors pressing for a stiffer sentenced reminded the judge that Anderson had testified Carlton wanted the pot so that he could repay a debt to another inmate.
     The only problem, according to court documents, is that Anderson never said that. Nevertheless, the district court shared the government’s recollection, and added months to Carlton’s sentence.
     The Fifth Circuit affirmed the sentence, finding that Carlton waived his right to challenge one of the enhancements, and failed to raise a proper objection to the other before the district court sentenced him.
     As is their practice, the majority of justices did not explain why they rejected the case for Supreme Court review.
     But Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent that Justice Stephen Breyer joined.
     “This Court has long held that ‘[i]n exceptional circumstances, especially in criminal cases, appellate courts … may, of their own motion, notice errors to which no exception has been taken, if the errors are obvious, or if they otherwise seriously affect the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings,'” Sotomayor wrote. “… And in all the tears since the doctrine arose, we have never suggested that plain-error review should apply differently depending on whether a mistake is characterized as one of fact or of law.”
     “All agree the District Court improperly relief on testimony Anderson never gave,” she continued. “But in the Fifth Circuit — and only the Fifth Circuit – that mistake cannot be reviewed and possibly corrected. As a result, Carlton may spend several additional months in jail simply because he was sentenced in Alexandria, Louisiana, instead of Alexandria, Virginia.”
     In conclusion, Sotomayor said she hopes when a future case raises the same questions as Carlton, “the Fifth Circuit will use that opportunity to rethink its approach to plain-view error.”

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