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Media Alerts - United States of America v. Jean Robert Nerius - Third Circuit
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May 27, 2016
  United States of America v. Jean Robert Nerius - Third Circuit
Headline: No presumption of judicial vindictiveness arises where a revised sentence is shorter than the sentence originally imposed

Area of Law: Federal Sentencing

Issue(s) Presented: Is a revised sentence that is one month shorter than the sentence originally imposed sufficient to support a presumption of judicial vindictiveness?

Brief Summary: Jean Robert Nerius, while in custody at a Pennsylvania penitentiary, pled guilty to resisting or impeding correctional employees and damaging property. He was sentenced as a career offender to 37 months' imprisonment, at the lower end of career offender sentencing range. However, while his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court voided the clause that served the basis of his classification as a career offender. No longer deemed a career offender under the applicable rules, Nerius' qualified for the lower 30-to-37-month range. He was resentenced to 36 months.

Nerius claimed his new sentence was presumptively vindictive because it fell at the upper end of the non-career offender sentencing guideline range, while his original sentence was at the lower end of the career offender range. The Third Circuit held that, because his revised sentence was lower than the original sentence, there was no presumption of judicial vindictiveness, and that Nerius presented no evidence of actual vindictiveness. Thus, the Third Circuit affirmed the revised sentence.

Extended Summary: Nerius, while in custody at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, committed several offenses, including biting a correctional employee's finger and breaking the sprinkler in his cell. He pled guilty to resisting correctional officers and damaging property within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Given the violent nature of the offenses and his criminal record, Nerius qualified as a career offender. Countering this with his acceptance of responsibility, sentencing guidelines resulted in an advised range of 37 to 46 months. Nerius sought a sentence below this range for his good behavior, which the District Court denied in the context of his violent actions and long criminal history. But acknowledging his recently improved behavior, the District Court sentenced at the bottom of the career offender range, with concurrent 37-month sentences for each count. Nerius appealed.

While his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court found the clause that served as the basis of Nerius' classification as a career offender void for vagueness. Thus, Nerius' case was vacated and remanded for resentencing. Because he no longer qualified as a career offender, his sentencing fell within the 30-to-37-month range. Based on good behavior, Nerius again sought a lower sentence or at least one towards the lower end of the range. However, the District Court sentenced at the top of the revised range, with concurrent 36-month sentences. Nerius appealed, claiming judicial vindictiveness and a violation of due process because at his initial sentencing, he was sentenced at the bottom of the then-applicable range, and at his resentencing, he was sentenced near the top of the revised range.

The Supreme Court has held that a presumption of judicial vindictiveness arises when a defendant receives a higher sentence after having successfully attacked his first conviction. This presumption focuses on the total length of the initial versus revised sentences. If the presumption does not apply - that is, the revised sentence is shorter - the appellant can succeed by showing actual vindictiveness in the sentencing judge. Under this framework, the Third Circuit affirmed Nerius' revised sentence. The Court acknowledged that Nerius' revised sentence fell at the top of the range, while his original sentence was at the bottom of the range. Still, he received a shorter sentence at resentencing, and thus the presumption of vindictiveness was not triggered. Moreover, Nerius showed no actual vindictiveness in the absence of the presumption.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153688p.pdf

Panel: Smith, Hardiman, and Shwartz, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: May 20, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: May 25, 2016

Docket Number: No. 15-3688

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Elizabeth C. Dolce

Counsel: Stephen R. Cerutti, II, Esquire and Eric Pfisterer, Esquire, Counsel for Appellee; D. Toni Byrd, Esquire and Ronald A. Krauss, Esquire, Counsel for Appellant.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Shwartz

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt





Area of Law: Federal Sentencing

Issue(s) Presented: Is a revised sentence that is one month shorter than the sentence originally imposed sufficient to support a presumption of judicial vindictiveness?

Brief Summary: Jean Robert Nerius, while in custody at a Pennsylvania penitentiary, pled guilty to resisting or impeding correctional employees and damaging property. He was sentenced as a career offender to 37 months' imprisonment, at the lower end of career offender sentencing range. However, while his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court voided the clause that served the basis of his classification as a career offender. No longer deemed a career offender under the applicable rules, Nerius' qualified for the lower 30-to-37-month range. He was resentenced to 36 months.

Nerius claimed his new sentence was presumptively vindictive because it fell at the upper end of the non-career offender sentencing guideline range, while his original sentence was at the lower end of the career offender range. The Third Circuit held that, because his revised sentence was lower than the original sentence, there was no presumption of judicial vindictiveness, and that Nerius presented no evidence of actual vindictiveness. Thus, the Third Circuit affirmed the revised sentence.

Extended Summary: Nerius, while in custody at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, committed several offenses, including biting a correctional employee's finger and breaking the sprinkler in his cell. He pled guilty to resisting correctional officers and damaging property within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Given the violent nature of the offenses and his criminal record, Nerius qualified as a career offender. Countering this with his acceptance of responsibility, sentencing guidelines resulted in an advised range of 37 to 46 months. Nerius sought a sentence below this range for his good behavior, which the District Court denied in the context of his violent actions and long criminal history. But acknowledging his recently improved behavior, the District Court sentenced at the bottom of the career offender range, with concurrent 37-month sentences for each count. Nerius appealed.

While his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court found the clause that served as the basis of Nerius' classification as a career offender void for vagueness. Thus, Nerius' case was vacated and remanded for resentencing. Because he no longer qualified as a career offender, his sentencing fell within the 30-to-37-month range. Based on good behavior, Nerius again sought a lower sentence or at least one towards the lower end of the range. However, the District Court sentenced at the top of the revised range, with concurrent 36-month sentences. Nerius appealed, claiming judicial vindictiveness and a violation of due process because at his initial sentencing, he was sentenced at the bottom of the then-applicable range, and at his resentencing, he was sentenced near the top of the revised range.

The Supreme Court has held that a presumption of judicial vindictiveness arises when a defendant receives a higher sentence after having successfully attacked his first conviction. This presumption focuses on the total length of the initial versus revised sentences. If the presumption does not apply - that is, the revised sentence is shorter - the appellant can succeed by showing actual vindictiveness in the sentencing judge. Under this framework, the Third Circuit affirmed Nerius' revised sentence. The Court acknowledged that Nerius' revised sentence fell at the top of the range, while his original sentence was at the bottom of the range. Still, he received a shorter sentence at resentencing, and thus the presumption of vindictiveness was not triggered. Moreover, Nerius showed no actual vindictiveness in the absence of the presumption.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153688p.pdf.

Panel: Smith, Hardiman, and Shwartz, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: May 20, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: May 25, 2016

Docket Number: No. 15-3688

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Elizabeth C. Dolce

Counsel: Stephen R. Cerutti, II, Esquire and Eric Pfisterer, Esquire, Counsel for Appellee; D. Toni Byrd, Esquire and Ronald A. Krauss, Esquire, Counsel for Appellant.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Shwartz

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 05/27/2016 02:36 PM     3rd Circuit  

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