Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Riley: Sentence 52-months Above High-End of Guidelines Not Unreasonable

In United States v. Riley, No. 19-14013 (Apr. 28, 2021) (Grant, Tjoflat, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed a 70-month sentence imposed for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), where the guidelines range was 12–18 months.    

At sentencing, defendant stipulated that he had possessed a stolen firearm as a felon in pending charges in Mississippi. He also had pending state charges concerning an alleged sale of methamphetamine, which he contested.  He requested a sentence within the guidelines range, which the government joined.  The district court, however, was "greatly concerned" with the defendant's criminal history, and imposed a sentence of 70 months' imprisonment, which was 52 months above the top-end of the guidelines range.  The district court found an upward variance to be appropriate after considering the defendant's "nature and circumstances" and his "history and characteristics."  The district court also specified that the sentence would run consecutively to any other state sentences.  It rejected defendant's request that the sentence begin running that day, while he was already in state custody, because the basis for the sentence as "totally different conduct."  Defendant objected to the approximately 300 percent upward variance. 

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court abused its discretion by imposing too much of an upward variance.  He argued that the district court erroneously focused almost exclusively on his criminal history.  

This Court disagreed, and found the defendant's sentence to be reasonable.  It reaffirmed the broad discretion afforded district courts at sentencing, and noted that certain characteristics of criminal history are especially significant.  The Court also noted that "[v]iolent offenders are often good candidates for upward variances," citing to research from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  The Court noted the "stack of other convictions" the defendant had "racked up" before the instant conviction.