Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
Shernar Redd argued the district court procedurally erred by running his 60-month revocation sentence consecutively to his state-court sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, contending the district court fundamentally misunderstood his state-court sentence. Because the record, viewed in its entirety, demonstrated the district court didn’t misunderstand Redd’s state-court sentence, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
While on supervised release for federal crimes of armed bank robbery and brandishing a firearm, Redd committed Colorado felony murder. For that state offense, Redd received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The U.S. Probation Office then successfully petitioned to revoke Redd’s supervised release because he had violated the conditions of release by committing a new crime.
The district court imposed a revocation sentence of 60 months and, over Redd’s objection, chose to run that sentence consecutively to his state sentence. In so doing, the district court considered several of the 18 U.S. Code § 3553(a) sentencing factors and noted an advisory policy statement in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines specifically recommends revocation sentences “be served consecutively to any sentence of imprisonment the defendant is serving, whether or not the sentence of imprisonment being served resulted from the conduct that is the basis of the revocation.”
The district court further explained it was Redd’s “burden to come forward with a reason . . . to impose a concurrent sentence in spite of” this policy statement, the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decision United States v. Rodriguez-Quintanilla.
Based on the violent conduct underlying Redd’s criminal history and current violation, the district court determined a lengthy sentence was necessary to deter criminal conduct and protect the public, the 10th Circuit noted. And in the district court’s view, Redd’s state-court life sentence didn’t account for this need because “a life sentence under state law does not always equate to a life sentence.” Defense counsel responded because Redd’s life sentence didn’t include the possibility of parole, there was no chance he would be released. According to defense counsel, a consecutive federal sentence and accompanying federal detainer would only serve to negatively impact Redd’s conditions of confinement in state prison. Defense counsel also acknowledged “things may change,” noting Redd’s state court appeal was pending and the Colorado legislature had recently shortened the sentence for Colorado felony murder from life without parole to a term of years, albeit in a prospective amendment that didn’t apply to Redd, the opinion noted, citing the decision People v. Sellers. Ultimately, the defense counsel maintained Redd’s state sentence of life without parole justified a concurrent sentence, rather than the policy statement’s recommended consecutive sentence.
The government, for its part, agreed with the district court’s deterrence and protection rationales and echoed the uncertainty of Redd’s state sentence, stating it didn’t “know what that state [sentence] is going to be.” After hearing from Redd, the district court imposed the 60-month sentence consecutively, effectively concluding that Redd failed to provide a reason for “exercis[ing] its discretion to impose a concurrent sentence.”
Redd argued the district court procedurally erred when it decided to run his revocation sentence consecutively to his state sentence. The 10th Circuit’s overarching standard of review is abuse of discretion, but it reviewed “the district court’s factual findings under the clear-error standard and engage in de novo review of legal determinations,” the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decision United States v. Worku.
“Review for procedural reasonableness focuses on whether the district court committed any error in calculating or explaining the sentence,” the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decisions United States v. Begay and United States v. Friedman. Although procedural unreasonableness often involves the calculation of a defendant’s sentencing range under the guidelines, a district court might also “commit procedural error when it misunderstands or misapplies the law,” the opinion noted, citing the 10th Circuit decisions United States v. Farley and United States v. Gallegos-Garcia.
The 10th Circuit explained Redd contended the district court based its sentencing decision on an incorrect understanding of his state sentence. In support, he pointed to the district court’s statement “that a life sentence under state law does not always equate to a life sentence.” According to Redd, this statement demonstrated a misunderstanding of his state sentence as one that includes the possibility of parole, even though he was unquestionably sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. This is so, Redd argued, because state life sentences sometimes allow for the possibility of parole, whereas federal life sentences never do. According to Redd, the district court’s reference to “under state law” necessarily incorporated an erroneous understanding of his state sentence.
But as the government responded, the record elsewhere showed the district court knew and understood the nature of Redd’s state sentence. In particular, the district court mentioned near the outset of the sentencing hearing Redd’s prehearing memorandum described the state sentence as “life without parole.”
Later, defense counsel described Redd’s sentence as “life without parole” and said Redd “ha[d] been sentenced . . . to die in custody.” The district court’s statement “a life sentence under state law does not always equate to a life sentence” came between these two accurate descriptions of Redd’s state sentence. According to the opinion, the record demonstrated the district court wasn’t confused about the nature of Redd’s sentence, citing the 10th Circuit decision United States v. Trujillo. The 10th Circuit rejected Redd’s argument the district court procedurally erred by “refus[ing] to accept the reality that [his] state sentence is one of life without parole.”
Instead, it appeared the district court determined Redd’s state sentence of life without parole was an insufficient reason to exercise its discretion to impose a concurrent sentence rather than the recommended consecutive sentence — likely due to the possibility, however remote, Redd would be released from his state sentence through some avenue other than parole. Redd didn’t contend such reasoning if based on an accurate understanding of his state sentence, was an abuse of discretion. The 10th Circuit affirmed.
Because the district court didn’t decide to run Redd’s revocation sentence consecutively to the state court sentence based on a misunderstanding about Redd’s state sentence, the 10th Circuit found no procedural error and affirmed.