Sixth Circuit examines the adequacy of a district court’s explanation for imposing consecutive sentences

           In United States v. King, the defendant, Dalen King, was on supervised release when he pleaded guilty to several drug charges. The drug convictions were among the violations on which revocation of supervised release was sought. The Guidelines range for the drug convictions was 30 to 37 months imprisonment and by statute the maximum sentence for the supervised release violations was 24 months.

          The government argued for a Guidelines range sentence for the drug convictions and a consecutive sentence of 24 months for the supervised release violations. Mr. King argued for “a total combined sentence” that fell below the Guidelines range. The district court sentenced Mr. King to 30 months imprisonment on the drug convictions and a consecutive sentence of 6 months on the supervised release violations.

          On appeal, Mr. King argued that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to explicitly refer to the applicable policy statement (U.S.S.G. §7B1.3(f)) and did not adequately explain its reasons for imposing consecutive sentences. The issue was subject to plain error review because no objection was made at sentencing. The Sixth Circuit held that the district court provided an adequate explanation for imposing consecutive sentences and thus affirmed Mr. King’s sentence.  

          In the exercise of its discretion to run sentences concurrently or consecutively, the district court must consider the factors in 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) and any applicable Guideline or policy statements. Although the district court here did not specifically refer to §7B1.3(f), which addresses the imposition of consecutive sentences upon revocation of supervised release, the Sixth Circuit found from the record that the court considered that policy statement. The Sixth Circuit noted that the district court heard the parties’ sentencing arguments; questioned the government about its sentencing recommendation; made a statement about consecutive sentencing; and addressed Mr. King’s background and history. All of those factors led the Sixth Circuit to conclude that the district court considered the relevant Guidelines and policy statements and understood that it had the discretion to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences.  The district court was found to have complied with §3553(a) and adequately explained its sentencing decision.

          Mr. King also made an argument that the district court was required to consider U.S.S.G. §5G1.3(d) which is a policy statement that addresses the concurrent - consecutive sentencing options where the defendant is subject to an undischarged term of imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit noted that §5G1.3(d) is inapplicable “to sentences imposed for violations of supervised release.” Rather, “it applies to sentences for convictions that occur while a defendant is on supervised release, not a supervised release violation itself.” King, Op. at 5, n.3. (citations omitted) .

          Mr. King made an additional argument that the district court failed to specifically respond “to a one-sentence argument” in his sentencing memorandum which noted that he was assessed 2 criminal history points for violating the law while on supervised release. Since those points increased his Guidelines range, Mr. King contended that a concurrent sentence for the supervised release violation would satisfy the §3553(a) factors. The Sixth Circuit rejected that argument stating that the district court “is not required to explicitly address every mitigating argument that a defendant makes, particularly when those arguments are raised only in passing.” Op. at 7 (citation omitted).

          The King decision reinforces not only the need to make objections at sentencing to any procedural errors but also to flesh out sentencing issues either in a written memorandum or at the sentencing.



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