Friday, October 21, 2011

The Sentencing Enhancement Under 18 U.S.C. §3147 Authorizes Courts to Add Up to Ten Years to the Statutory Maximum.

Section 18 U.S.C. §3147(1) provides that if a person is convicted of an offense while under pretrial release, then in addition to the sentence for the underlying felony offense, the person should be sentenced to an additional term of up to 10 years. In United States v. Melvin Lewis, No. 10-4460 (3d Cir. October 18, 2011), the Third Circuit, in a case of first impression, held that §3147 has the effect of increasing the statutory maximum for an underlying offense by up to ten years, and that the sentences must be imposed consecutively.

Appellant Melvin Lewis was tried and convicted on two counts of a three count indictment. Specifically he was convicted of (1) being a felon in possession of ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1), and (2) committing an offense while on pretrial release, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3147(1). He was acquitted of a carjacking charge.

Mr. Lewis’s sentencing range was 140 to 175 months, and he was sentenced to 138 months, 96 for the ammunition offense and 42 months for violating §3147. He challenged the sentence arguing that the statutory maximum for §922(g)(1) was 120 months. The district court interpreted §3147 to authorize a combined sentence that exceeded the statutory maximum for the underlying offense. The Third Circuit agreed, finding that it was the “clear and unambiguous”intent of Congress to impose an extra sentence and that there was no exception to the statute that would prevent the extra time from exceeding the statutory maximum.

Nevertheless, the Third Circuit remanded the case because §3147 is a sentencing enhancement and not a separate crime. While the enhancement must be submitted to the jury, that finding is not a conviction. Therefore, it was plain error to convict Mr. Lewis for violating §3147, as if it were a separate offense.

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