United States v. Shaw (7th Cir. July 2022)

The Federal Docket

July 22, 2022

After serving ten years in prison for possession of crack cocaine and a firearm, Terrance Shaw was sent back to prison for two years after several violations on supervised release. In imposing the two-year sentence, the district court judge went significantly above the advisory Guidelines range. The judge’s decision to sentence Shaw to this term of imprisonment was based on the judge’s desire to “help” Shaw and give him an opportunity to rehabilitate himself in prison after failing to do so on supervised release.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit vacated the sentence. At the revocation hearing, Counsel for Shaw argued that supervised release conditions should be further modified to help Shaw rehabilitate himself, while the judge ultimately concluded that sending Shaw back to prison would “give [him] a chance, hopefully…to look at the programs [he’s] gonna be offered in prison in a totally different light.” The judge also counseled Shaw to “really focus on how [he] can get the benefit of prison” and stated that he was “doing what I think is the best way I can help you.”

Noting that 18 USC 3582(a) directs that “imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation,” the Court held that the sentencing judge had improperly sentenced Shaw to a higher prison term to rehabilitate him. Since the judge had not otherwise mentioned any 3553(a)/3583(e) factors, it appeared the judge’s upward variance was solely based on considerations regarding rehabilitation. Prior Seventh Circuit precedent makes clear that a judge can consider rehabilitation in determining whether to impose a prison sentence, but a judge cannot impose or lengthen a prison term “to promote an offender’s rehabilitation.”

The Court vacated Shaw’s sentence and remanded on those grounds. The Court rejected Shaw’s claim that the judge improperly based his decision on religious beliefs, reasoning that the judge’s references to Shaw’s “sin” and “God” providing a second chance were taken out of context and were merely rhetorical, not the basis for the judge’s decision.

Judge Hamilton wrote an opinion concurring in the judgement critiquing how the law makes it difficult for judges to determine what role a defendant’s rehabilitation should play in their sentencing decisions–on one hand, they must consider the need for a defendant’s rehabilitation in determining what kind of sentence to impose; on the other, they cannot send a defendant to prison to rehabilitate him or her.

Appeal from the Central District of Illinois
Opinion by Jackson-Akiwumi, joined by Rovner and Hamilton
Concurring opinion by Hamilton

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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