By: Patrick Southern

Today, in United States v. Jeter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a twenty-four month sentence imposed by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina pursuant to the revocation of the appellant’s supervised release. On appeal, Jeter argued his sentence was procedurally unreasonable and that the district court’s explanation of the sentence was insufficient. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Fourth Circuit rejected both arguments.

Citing its 2006 decision in United States v. Crudup, 461 F.3d 433, the Fourth Circuit indicated it will affirm a revocation sentence that falls within the statutory maximum unless it finds the sentence to be “plainly unreasonable.” The analysis of whether a revocation sentence is reasonable is the same as that employed to review original sentences. Thus, a sentence must be procedurally or substantively unreasonable to qualify as “plainly” unreasonable.

A sentence is procedurally reasonable so long as the district court considers applicable factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and policy statements contained in chapter seven of the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual. The pertinent portion of the Sentencing Guidelines provides that “the court should sanction primarily the defendant’s breach of trust, while taking into account, to a limited degree, the seriousness of the underlying violation and the criminal history of the violator.”

The court noted the underlying policy goal behind such sentences is not to punish new criminal conduct, but instead to penalize a defendant’s failure to comply with court-ordered terms of supervision. A district court “may not impose a revocation sentence based predominately on the seriousness of the releasee’s violation or the need for the sentence to promote respect for the law and provide just punishment.”

However, the Fourth Circuit held that the fact the district court made reference to those considerations in its explanation of Jeter’s revocation sentence did not render that sentence “procedurally unreasonable” when such discussion was relevant to its § 3553(a) analysis. Importantly, a district court has broad discretion to impose a sentence up to the statutory maximum. The Fourth Circuit found the aforementioned requirements had been met, and thus held that the sentence imposed on Jeter by the district court was procedurally reasonable.

Regarding Jeter’s argument that the district court’s explanation of his sentence was insufficient, the court noted that while the explanation was brief and conclusory, it was nonetheless sufficient because the court recognized Jeter’s failure to comply with the conditions of his supervised release and Jeter was sentenced at the bottom of the range provided for in the Sentencing Guidelines. While the district court is required to provide an explanation for its chosen revocation sentence, the explanation does not have to be as detailed or specific as that which would accompany an original sentence. Thus, Jeter’s twenty-four month sentence was affirmed.