Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Split Noted: Can a District Court Require Its Sentence To Be Served Consecutively to an Anticipated, but Unimposed, State Sentence?

Per United States v. Quintana-Gomez, 2008 WL 763368, *4 n. 2 (5th Cir. Mar. 25, 2008)

Gregorio Quintana-Gomez pled guilty to illegal re-entry of the United States. The Northern District of Texas imposed a sentence of 57 months, also ordering such sentence to be served consecutively to any federal sentence that might be imposed for a violation of supervised release then pending in the Southern District of Texas. Subsequently, the Southern District revoked Quintana-Gomez’s supervised release but sentenced him to six months, concurrent with the 57 month sentence.

18 U.S.C. § 3584 governs the imposition of consecutive or concurrent sentences. The text of the statute suggests that a court has the power to decide how order multiple sentences only when (1) multiple terms of imprisonment are imposed at the same time, or (2) a defendant is already subject to an undischarged term of imprisonment. The implication of this language is that the Northern District (being the first court and imposing a single sentence) had no authority to decide whether its sentence should be consecutive or concurrent. This Fifth Circuit panel agrees with this interpretation, holding that the Northern District’s order should be without effect.

This holding comports with the only other circuit to consider the question of conflicting federal court sentencing orders. In the course his discussion, however, Judge Jolly notes that the circuits have split over whether district courts have the power to require its sentence to be served consecutively to anticipated, but unimposed, state sentences. The CAs 5,8,10,11 state that the federal courts have such authority, whereas the CAs 4,6,7(dicta) hold that they are without it. The Fifth Circuit based its previous precedent on the dual sovereignty doctrine, which is plausible, but I think that that the other side of the split has the better understanding of a plain statute.

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