By Carson Smith

Today, in the unpublished opinion United States v. Zachery, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s 300-month sentence of the defendant, Anrique Zachery. Zachery’s counsel questioned whether the sentence was unconstitutionally excessive. Additionally, Zachery filed a pro se brief, claiming that the district court failed to consider necessary sentencing factors under § 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). In affirming, the Fourth Circuit held that the sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment and that the district court adequately explained the basis for the sentence.

Background of the Case

Zachery pled guilty to two counts: (1) conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 280 grams or more of cocaine base under 21 U.S.C. § 846; and (2) possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Zachery was sentenced to a 300-month minimum sentence.

Zachery Failed to Establish That the Sentence Was Grossly Disproportionate Under the Eighth Amendment

On appeal, Zachery argued that the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment. In reviewing this claim de novo, the Fourth Circuit applied the two part test from Graham v. Florida, first looking at whether the gravity of the offense and the severity of the sentence led to an inference of gross disproportionality.

The Court noted that the 300-month sentence was the minimum possible sentence that a defendant could receive for this combination of charges. Noting that this penalty might be considered “cruel,” it could not be considered “unusual” given the congressional sentencing guidelines. Because the punishment did not lead to an inference of gross disproportionality, it was unnecessary to analyze the second factor. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held that the sentence did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

Sentence Was Procedurally and Substantively Reasonable 

Zachery claimed that the district court failed to consider the 18 U.S.C. § 3353(a) sentencing factors and that failure to do so was not reasonable. The Court reviewed the reasonableness of the sentence for abuse of discretion. In order to find an abuse of discretion, a court must find that the sentence was not procedurally reasonable or substantively reasonable. The defendant bears the burden of providing evidence that the sentence was not reasonable.

In holding that the sentence was procedurally reasonable, the Court focused on the district court’s explanation for the basis of the sentence. The Court found that the district court provided a sufficient basis of explanation, specifically referencing § 3353(a) factors and properly calculating the sentence according to the guidelines. Furthermore, the Court emphasized that every § 3353(a) factor need not be explicitly discussed when calculating a proper sentence.

Additionally, Zachery failed to provide any evidence to rebut the presumption of substantive reasonableness. Therefore, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion.

Sentence Was Constitutional and Reasonable

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held that the 300-month sentence did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and the district court was reasonable in explaining the basis of the sentence and properly applying the sentencing guidelines.