Skip to main content

The Prohibition Against General Sentences Does Not Apply to Non-Guideline Sentences.

United States v. Martorano, No. 11-2864 (3d Cir. September 5, 2012)

    George Martorano was charged with nineteen counts in relation to the wholesale distribution of drugs, including conspiring to distribute drugs and supervising a Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE). He pled guilty to all nineteen counts.   In 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison. The district court did not issue a sentence for each individual count, but rather imposed a general sentence of life imprisonment. Notably, life imprisonment exceeded the statutory maximum on 18 of the 19 counts; only the CCE count allowed for a life term.

     Mr. Martorano filed numerous appeals and post-conviction motions over the years. In this appeal, Mr. Martorano argued that under the Third Circuit’s holding in United States v. Ward, 626 F.3d 179 (3d Cir. 2010), his general sentence was illegal. In Ward, the Court reversed the 25-year general sentence, which exceeded the statutory maximum on 3 of the 5 counts, because there was not enough information to determine whether the 25 year sentence applied to all 5 counts. The Third Circuit rejected Mr. Martorano’s argument.

     Initially, the Third Circuit noted that it has never held that general sentences are "illegal per se." The Court further explained that Ward was based on U.S.S.G. §5G1.2, which requires courts to impose a sentence on each count. Ultimately, the Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the holding in Ward does not apply to general sentences imposed outside of the Sentencing Guidelines. Since Mr. Martorano was sentenced before the Guidelines took effect, his sentence was not governed by §5G1.2 and the holding in Ward was not controlling. He was therefore not entitled to relief and the sentence was affirmed.

     Although the Third Circuit acknowledged that it had never held general sentences to be per se erroneous, it did reaffirm its position that general sentences are problematic and that in cases with multiple counts a detailed sentence for each count is greatly preferred.

     The appellate court also rejected Mr. Martorano’s second argument that the general sentence violated the Double Jeopardy clause by imposing separate concurrent sentences for the conspiracy to distribute drugs count and for supervising a CCE count. The Court ruled that even assuming that the conspiracy charge was a lesser included charge of the CCE count, Mr. Marorano could not be granted relief on this theory because the higher sentence for the CCE sentence was still within the district court’s discretion.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.


The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…

A Traffic Stop Followed by a Summons is not an Intervening Arrest for Sentencing Guidelines Purposes

In United States v. Ley, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 5618617 (3d Cir., Nov. 22, 2017), the Third Circuit held that a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, is not an intervening arrest for the purpose of calculating a defendant’s prior convictions under USSG § 4A1.2(a)(2).   Defendant John Francis Ley received two speeding tickets on two consecutive days.  After writing each ticket, the police released Ley and informed him that the matter would proceed via summons.  No arrest was made and Ley was sentenced for both matters on the same day. The District Court, however, held that the issuance of the summons constituted an intervening arrest for the purposes of the Guidelines and each ticket therefore merited an individual criminal history point.  Ley appealed.  Looking at the ordinary meaning of both “arrest” and “summons,” as well as the Supreme Court’s history of distinguishing arrests from other interactions with law enforcement, the Third Circuit, joining three other circuits …