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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.


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