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United States v. Sadler

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 25, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Phillip Bradley Sadler Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: May 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Following the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), the district court[1] resentenced Phillip Bradley Sadler to an above-Guidelines range sentence of 102 months' imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm. On appeal, Sadler argues that the district court considered an improper sentencing factor when it commented that although "Sadler does not technically qualify as an armed career criminal, . . . he is exactly the type of defendant that Congress had in mind when it passed the [Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)]." We affirm.

         I. Background

         Sadler was charged in a one-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He entered into a plea agreement with the government in which he agreed that he was subject to the ACCA's sentence-enhancing penalties. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). At sentencing, the district court classified Sadler as an armed career criminal and sentenced him to 180 months' imprisonment.

         Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court held in Johnson that the ACCA's residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. 135 S.Ct. at 2557. Because of Johnson, Sadler's prior conviction for fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle no longer qualified as a predicate violent felony for purposes of the ACCA. As a result, Sadler no longer had three predicate felonies and was not an armed career criminal. In Sadler's appeal of his 180-month sentence, the government conceded Johnson error and moved to remand the case for resentencing. We granted that motion.

         At resentencing, the district court calculated an advisory Guidelines range of 63 to 78 months' imprisonment. The government sought a sentence at the high end of the Guidelines range, stating that "the upper end of the guidelines range is . . . appropriate at least as a beginning point when it comes to . . . an applicable sentence in this case." After hearing from the parties, reviewing the case filings, and considering the presentence report, the district court imposed an above-Guidelines sentence of 102 months' imprisonment.

         The court arrived at this sentence after "consider[ing] all of the Section 3553(a) factors, including the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant." The court justified the upward variance based on Sadler's "very long and . . . very violent criminal history, " noting that this is "his ninth felony conviction and his 27th overall conviction as an adult." The court pointed out that "[m]any of his convictions have involved him endangering or threatening to endanger the lives of others." But "[b]ecause of the highly artificial way that the ACCA is now applied, " the court commented that "Sadler does not technically qualify as an armed career criminal" despite being "exactly the type of defendant that Congress had in mind when it passed the Act." The court noted the lack of "impact" that "[n]umerous jail sentences, including a sentence of 72 months, and numerous terms of court supervision" have had on Sadler.

         Although the court acknowledged the "terrible tragedy" that Sadler experienced "as a young teenager when he found his father's body after his father had taken his own life" and Sadler's struggles "with significant mental, emotional, and substance abuse problems, " the court found it time for Sadler to "take responsibility for his own decisions." Because Sadler had done so poorly on supervision in the past and because the court saw "no evidence that a lower sentence would do anything except expose the public to more danger, " the court did "not believe that a sentence below 102 months would be adequate to protect the public or to accomplish the other objectives of 3553(a), particularly in light of the failure of multiple prior prison sentences."

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, Sadler argues that the district court considered an improper sentencing factor when it commented that although "Sadler does not technically qualify as an armed career criminal, . . . he is exactly the type of defendant that Congress had in mind when it passed the [ACCA]."

          "We review a district court's sentence in two steps: first, we review for significant procedural error; and second, if there is no significant procedural error, we review for substantive reasonableness." United States v. O'Connor, 567 F.3d 395, 397 (8th Cir. 2009). We review for an abuse of discretion the substantive reasonableness of a sentence. Id. "A district court abuses its discretion and imposes an unreasonable sentence when it fails to consider a relevant factor that should have received significant weight; gives significant weight to an improper or irrelevant factor; or considers ...


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