Federal Appeals Court rejects argument of ‘vindictive’ robbery sentence

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  • A Raleigh robber did not face a "vindictive" resentencing after a federal Appeals Court delivered him a legal victory. That was the conclusion of a 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel.
  • District Judge James Dever added six months to the original 13-year prison sentence for Christopher Rayquaz Singletary. Dever also chose to run the sentence consecutively to a separate prison sentence on state robbery charges.
  • Singletary argues that the new prison term will effectively keep him behind bars for another decade.
  • Appellate judges agreed Dever cited legitimate reasons for extending Singletary's sentence.

A Raleigh robber did not face a “vindictive” federal prison sentence after winning an earlier appeal in his case. A unanimous 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals panel offered that conclusion Tuesday.

US District Judge James Dever sentenced Christopher Rayquaz Singletary in July 2021 to 13.5 years in prison on a federal robbery charge and related gun offense. That was a six-month extension of the original sentence Dever had handed down to Singletary two years earlier.

Dever also chose in 2021 to start the federal sentence after Singletary finished serving a state prison sentence on separate robbery charges.

“Singletary now argues that he was resentenced vindictively as punishment for successfully exercising his right to appeal,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Pamela Harris. “But the district court expressly based its increased sentence on objective information post-dating Singletary’s initial sentencing – namely, Singletary’s new state convictions and his lengthy disciplinary record while incarcerated. Because these developments suffice to rebut any presumption of vindictiveness, we affirm the district court’s judgment.”

Singletary was 21 in 2017 when he robbed a restaurant. He was charged under the federal Hobbs Act, which covers robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. After pleading guilty, Singletary faced a 13-year federal prison term. That sentence would be followed by five years of supervised release.

Singletary’s plea agreement waived his right to appeal, but he later appealed two discretionary conditions of supervised release that Dever had not pronounced during the 2019 sentencing hearing.

A 4th Circuit panel agreed Dever should have pronounced the release conditions. The Appeals Court threw out Singletary’s entire sentence in 2021.

By the time of Singletary’s resentencing, “the government filed a revised memorandum highlighting two developments post-dating Singletary’s initial sentencing,” Harris wrote. “First, the government pointed to Singletary’s significant disciplinary record while incarcerated: Since his sentencing, Singletary had incurred at least 15 infractions, including ‘three instances of weapons possession, three instances of threatening to harm correctional officers, five instances of disobeying lawful orders, one instance of lock tampering, and one sexual act.’”

Singletary also had pleaded guilty to three state charges from an unrelated armed robbery in North Carolina in 2017.

“The state court sentenced Singletary to a total term of 126 to 173 months’ imprisonment – roughly 10.5 to 14.5 years – but it ran this term concurrently with Singletary’s since-vacated federal sentence,” Harris explained. “In the government’s view, this concurrent state sentence had ‘effectively subsume[d]’ Singletary’s federal term and left him ‘unpunished for his federal offenses.’ The government thus requested that the court run any new sentence consecutively to Singletary’s state term.”

“In response, Singletary’s counsel argued that a consecutive sentence would ‘frustrate the clear intent’ of the state sentencing court and, by effectively adding over a decade to Singletary’s total period of incarceration, ‘risk … making him institutionalized beyond repair,’” the 4th Circuit opinion continued.

Dever said in 2021 that he was “tremendously concerned” about the new developments. He concluded that the “conduct in the totality bespeaks a tremendous need for society to be protected from Christopher Singletary,” Harris wrote.

The district judge added six months to Singletary’s original federal sentence and ordered that it run consecutively to the state sentence. “I absolutely have the discretion to run this Consecutively … and I will run it consecutively because society needs to be protected from Mr. Singletary for an extremely long time,” Dever said during the resentencing.

“[T]here is no question that Singletary’s new sentence is ‘actually harsher’ than his previous term,” Harris wrote. “But the parties hotly contest how much harsher it is. In Singletary’s view, the six-month increase in his federal sentence combines with his now-consecutive, minimum-10.5-year state term to ‘effectively’ enhance his sentence ‘by at least eleven years.’ The government, meanwhile, argues that Singletary’s consecutive state term is irrelevant, leaving only a ‘modest’ six-month increase in his federal sentence.”

“We need not resolve this dispute, because however we describe the extent of Singletary’s sentence increase, the district court amply rebutted any presumption of vindictiveness by affirmative reference to objective, post-sentencing events,” Harris added.

“As the government forthrightly acknowledged at oral argument, it is possible – though unlikely – that a case could arise in which a district court’s stated reasons for an increased sentence are so facially implausible, pretextual, or disproportionate that they cannot rebut the presumption of vindictiveness. But that is not this case,” Harris wrote. “Here, the district court extensively justified its higher sentence by reference to material, legitimately aggravating ‘conduct [and] events that occurred subsequent to the original sentencing.’”

Appellate Judge Julius Richardson and  U.S. District Judge Patricia Tolliver Giles joined Harris’ opinion.