Fourth Circuit Vacates Procedurally Unreasonable Sentence; District Court Failed to Consider Defendant’s Arguments for Lesser Sentence

U.S. v. Benjamin Cornelius Blue (No. 16-4537)

Defendant-Appellant Benjamin Cornelius Blue appeals his 272-month sentence, which the district court imposed after Blue pled guilty to armed bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. On appeal, Blue argues that his sentence is unreasonable because the district court failed to address his non-frivolous arguments in favor of a downward departure from the sentencing range. The Fourth Circuit agrees, reversing Blue’s sentence and remanding to the district court for resentencing.

The PSR calculated Blue’s guideline range to be 272 to 319 months. At sentencing, the district court adopted the PSR as written. Blue requested that the court impose a sentence of 92 to 115 months’ imprisonment on Count 1, to be followed by the mandatory 84-month consecutive sentence on Count 2. In support of his request, Blue raised several arguments: (1) he was influenced by his older brothers, who pressured him to commit the previous robbery offenses; (2) he committed the instant offense to support his opiate addiction; (3) he had successfully found employment and was a hard worker; (4) he was a good father to his child and his wife’s children from a previous relationship; (5) his co-defendant received a sentence of 63 months’ imprisonment; (6) the career offender Guidelines range was overly harsh and failed to deter offenders; (7) he accepted responsibility for his conduct; and (8) he attempted to provide substantial assistance in the prosecution of others, but his attempts were frustrated by factors outside of his control.

The district court imposed a 188-month sentence for Count 1 and an 84-month sentence for Count 2 to run consecutively. The Fourth Circuit concludes that the district court failed to provide adequate explanation for the sentence, and did not address Blue’s arguments in favor of a lesser sentence. The Fourth Circuit notes that “a sentencing court must address the parties’ nonfrivolous arguments in favor of a particular sentence, and if the court rejects those arguments, it must explain why in a sufficiently detailed manner to allow this Court to conduct a meaningful appellate review.” Here, the district court failed to address six of the eight above-stated issues raised by Blue at sentencing. Based on this conclusion, the Court holds that the sentence is procedurally unreasonable, and vacates Blue’s sentence.

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