By Chad M. Zimlich

Today, in United States v. Locklear, the Fourth Circuit, finding no error, affirmed the district court’s sentencing of Clifton Kelly Locklear to 100 months of imprisonment.

Whether a Sentence Forty-three Months Above the Guidelines Is an Abuse of Discretion

The only issue on this appeal was whether or not the District Court of the Eastern District of North Carolina abused its discretion by giving Locklear a sentence that was forty-three months beyond the applicable range suggested by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Locklear argued that the sentence was not substantively reasonable, specifically because of his mental health issues.

Defendant’s Possession of a Stolen Firearm

Clifton Kelly Locklear pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal to possession of a stolen firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(j), 924 (2012). He was subsequently sentenced to 100 months of imprisonment, which was an upward variance from the forty-six to fifty-seven months that were suggested by the Guidelines.

The District Court Has Broad Discretion in Sentencing

In determining an appropriate sentence, the district court has broad discretion to take into account multiple factors, among them those enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012). The Fourth Circuit’s role in reviewing a district court’s sentence is simply one of deciding whether or not the sentence was reasonable, which is a deferential abuse of discretion standard. Furthermore, this standard stays the same whether a sentence falls within, above, or below the Guidelines range.

In looking at reasonableness, the Fourth Circuit looked at the district court’s calculation of Locklear’s advisory Guidelines range, whether the court gave the parties an opportunity to argue for an appropriate sentence, whether the § 3553(a) factors were considered, whether the sentence was based on clearly erroneous facts, or, finally, whether the court failed to explain the sentence chosen. In each of these, the court is given “due deference” because of the flexibility it has in fashioning a sentence, meaning there either has to be a clear procedural error or an unreasonable use of discretion for the Fourth Circuit to overturn a sentence.

The Reasonableness of the District Court’s Use of the § 3553(a) Factors

After reviewing the record and the parties’ briefs, the Fourth Circuit considered the calculation of Locklear’s Guidelines range to be substantively reasonable. This was mainly due to the court’s use of the § 3553(a) factors, such as Locklear’s prior criminal history and characteristics, the court’s need to promote respect for the law, the need to protect the public, and the need for adequate deterrence. All of these factors weighed in favor of the lengthier sentence, lending further support for the reasonableness of the sentence.

Lastly, turning to Locklear’s argument that the 100-month sentence was unreasonable in light of his mental health issues, the Fourth Circuit refused to substitute its judgment for that of the district court as the district court has “extremely broad discretion” when weighing the § 3553(a) factors. In this sentencing, the district court was acting well within its discretion.

Sentence Was Reasonable, There Was No Abuse of Discretion

The Fourth Circuit found that there was no reversible error, that Locklear’s sentence was reasonable, and affirmed the district court’s judgment.