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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Justices Take Up Sentence-Reduction Case

(CN) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether imposition of a harsh sentence for a felony allows the court to use a substantial sentencing reduction on related charges.

U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett sentenced Levon Dean Jr. to 400 months incarceration after a jury convicted him on robbery and firearms charges.

The convictions stemmed from the events of April 15, 2013. Dean and his brother agreed to help a friend recover an alleged $400 debt from a man known in court documents as "J.R." The armed brothers broke into and ransacked J.R.'s hotel room, taking any drugs and money they found, according to court documents.

J.R. was in the room with a prostitute that night, intending to trade methamphetamine for sex. Because of this transaction, the district court attached Hobbs Act violations to the charges, claiming the robbery had interfered with "interstate commerce."

The hotel was located in Sioux City, which straddles the border of Iowa and Nebraska, and J.R. had brought drugs over the border from Iowa to pay the prostitute, according to the Eight Circuit's summary of the case.

Dean's sentence was broken down to a mandatory minimum of 30 years incarceration for the Hobbs Act violations, with another three years added for the remaining charges.

Judge Bennett did grant Dean a downward variance the sentencing range for the related charges was about seven to nine years. Still, Dean requested a sentence of a single day for the remaining crimes, given the harshness of the Hobbs Act sentencing.

Judge Bennett admitted he would have liked to grant the request, but he did not believe he had jurisdiction to do so, according to court documents.

In his decision, Bennett depended on United States v. Hatcher, a 2007 ruling in which the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court that had varied downward to a one-day sentence for remaining charges after a mandatory penalty of 300 months had been imposed.

When Dean appealed, the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district judge's reasoning.

"We see no meaningful difference between the situation in Hatcher and what Levon [Dean] requested in this case," U.S. Circuit Judge Clarence Beam wrote for a three-judge panel in December 2015. "Accordingly, the district court correctly noted his (sic) inability to sentence Levon as requested."

After the Eighth Circuit denied a rehearing on the matter, Dean petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to look at his case, claiming that the Eighth Circuit ruled differently in a later, similar appeal, and that the 10th Circuit also had ruled differently on the issue.

"[B]y failing to consider the sentences imposed on the [Hobbs Act] charges, a court is essentially barred from considering an entire category of information about a defendant and risks contravening express Congressional intent," Dean argued through his attorney, Alan Stoler, in his petition for a writ of certiorari.

As is customary, the Supreme Court offered no statement on its decision to take up the case.

Categories / Appeals, Criminal

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