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April 9, 2015
  United States v. Lymas -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Fourth Circuit Rejects One Size Fits All Sentencing for Defendants Involved in Chain of Robberies

Area of Law: Sentencing Guidelines

Issue Presented: Whether a district judge's failure to give individualized rationales for each sentence imposed on three separate defendants was procedural error requiring resentencing.

Brief Summary: This action was the consolidation of three criminal appeals all resulting from the same set of convenience store robberies. The appellants, Xavier DeShawn Lymas, Lionel Bernard Newman, and Jesse Gomez, all pleaded guilty to using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and to conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery. The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion that affects interstate commerce.

In the fall of 2011, the three defendants, with the help of a fourth man and a teenager, robbed three convenience stores in Fayetteville, N.C. Each of the three defendants participated in two of the three robberies and each had different roles in the conspiracy. Gomez was the leader of the conspiracy, was armed during two robberies, had a criminal history, and pistol-whipped a store clerk. The pre-sentence report recommended an advisory sentencing range of 160-185 months for Gomez. Newman was armed during two robberies, pointed his gun at a store clerk, recruited a juvenile as an accomplice for one robbery, had a criminal history, and was a known member of a local gang. Newman's advisory sentencing range was 170-197 months. Lyman was not armed for either of the robberies he participated in, and had no criminal history. Lyman's advisory sentencing range for the two charges was 123-138 months.

At sentencing, the district court judge stated "this is one of the fallacies of guideline sentencing that in reality, in justice, in fairness and in truth, these four people should receive the same sentence and should be punished equally across the board for what they did." The district judge imposed a sentence of 200 months on each of the defendants, calling the result "fair, just and necessary." The defendants appealed, arguing that a lack of individualized justification for each sentence was a procedural error.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the sentences and remanded for resentencing. The Fourth Circuit held that the district judge failed to sufficiently explain why he rejected each man's relevant sentencing guidelines range. The court found that the "wholesale rejection of the Guidelines might be permissible" but "it would require a significantly more detailed explanation."

The Fourth Circuit also held that a court commits procedural error when it fails to justify a defendant's sentence with an individualized rationale. The Fourth Circuit wrote, "except for offering its view of the seriousness of the offense, the district court ignored every other statutory factor and essentially sentenced the crime itself rather than the individual defendants." The Fourth Circuit called the district court's sentencing "a cookie-cutter approach that is the antithesis of our individualized sentencing process."

To read the full text of this opinion, please click here.

Panel: Chief Judge Traxler, Judges Wynn and Harris

Argument Date: 12/11/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/18/2015

Docket Number: Case Nos. 13-4635, 13-4636, & 13-4650 (Consolidated)

Decided: Vacated and remanded by published opinion.

Case Alert Author: Douglas Sampson, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Terry F. Rose, Smithfield, North Carolina; G. Alan DuBois, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellants. Shailika S. Kotiya, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Thomas P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant Lymas. Brett Wentz, WENTZ LAW, PLLC, Wilmington, North Carolina, for Appellant Gomez. Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Chief Judge Traxler

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/09/2015 02:47 PM     4th Circuit  

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