Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fowler: Sentencing Package requires repackaging after vacatur

In U.S. v. Fowler, No. 12-15818 (May 21, 2014), the Court rejected the argument that a district court, on resentencing, was not authorized to re-impose a life sentence. As the result of his murder of a Florida police officer, Fowler was originally convicted of witness-tampering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(1)(C) and using a firearm during a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). At sentencing, the district court imposed a Guidelines life sentence on the witness-tampering count, and a mandatory 10-year consecutive sentence on the § 924(c) count. The witness-tampering conviction was ultimately dismissed after the Supreme Court ruled that the witness-tampering statute required a “reasonable likelihood” that the victim would make a communication to a federal law enforcement officer. At resentencing, the district court imposed a life sentence on the § 924(c) count. Fowler challenged the life sentence on appeal, claiming that the district court lacked authority to increase his sentence on the § 924(c) count from ten years to life. The Court rejected this argument, pointing out that the Court “on direct appeal, without hesitation and as a matter of course, vacated entire sentences and remanded for resentencing on all surviving counts.” “The sentence package that has been unpackaged by a reversal is to be repackaged at resentencing using the guidelines and the § 3553(a) factors.” The Court rejected Fowler’s reliance on “outmoded” cases involving vacaturs under § 2255. The Court also rejected Fowler’s reliance on the “aggregate remainder approach” of U.S. v. Monaco, 702 F.2d 860 (11th Cir. 1983). Under this approach, a district court, after vacatur of one of several counts, was not authorized under North Carolina v. Pearce to increase the total sentence attributable to all remaining counts. The Court noted that Monaco was a pre-Guidelines case, and held that it was not applicable to “package sentences” under the Guidelines. The Court explained that the North Carolina v. Pearce presumption of vindictiveness only arose when the total sentence was increased. Here, the original sentence was life, and the new sentence was also life. Moreover, the sentence was not “vindictive” because the district court explained that it would never have imposed a ten-year sentence on the § 924(c) count in the absence of a life sentence on the other count.