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U.Va. law students win on appeal, again

4tth Circuit Seal FEAA federal prisoner’s sentence is to be reconsidered, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, thanks in part to the work of two University of Virginia Law students.

Sound familiar?

This is the second time that students at the Appellate Litigation Clinic at the U.Va. law school have represented appellant Anthony Mangum before the 4th Circuit. It’s also the second time that the students have come away victorious.

The first time, Mangum was represented by Travis Andrews and Clint Cowan, then-third year students who convinced the 4th Circuit in 2016 that the Federal Bureau of Prisons made a legal error and abused its discretion in interpreting a North Carolina federal judge’s silence as an intention for consecutive sentencing for Mangum.

This time around, students Amanda Lineberry and Kendall Burchard convinced the 4th Circuit to order the BOP to consider Mangum’s sentence for a third time, now ordering them to give weight to an Oklahoma state court’s order for concurrent sentences.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote the unanimous opinion in Mangum v. Hallembaek, et al. (VLW 018-2-233).

Concurrent or consecutive?

In 2006 Mangum was indicted in North Carolina on federal drug charges for which he was eventually sentenced to serve just under 22 years in prison. Before his conviction, he was arrested and charged in Oklahoma for assault and other crimes. But when he was sentenced for the federal charge, the federal district court didn’t specify whether his sentence would be served concurrently or consecutively with any future sentences.

Mangum was sentenced to 10 years in Oklahoma state prison, which the state court ruled was to be served concurrently with his federal sentence. But when he was released early from state prison, the BOP declined to count the five years served toward his federal sentence. They said a lack of response from the federal court for advice on the matter meant consecutive terms were appropriate.

In 2013, Mangum filed a complaint in North Carolina’s Eastern District, seeking credit for the time he spent in state prison, which was denied. He appealed to the 4th Circuit and, with the help of the U.Va. law students, the district court’s decision was vacated, citing the federal precedent in the circuit at the time of sentencing which disallowed judges from ordering sentences to run consecutive to anticipated state sentences.

The court sent the case back to the district court with instructions to enforce their orders, and consider the state court’s sentencing order. But in July 2016, the BOP again found consecutive sentences were proper, leading Mangum to file a motion to compel the 4th Circuit’s orders, which the district court denied, and a resulting second 4th Circuit appeal was filed.

What the federal judge did not and could not say

Gregory said in the court’s Dec. 12 opinion that the matter in question this time around is the scope of the 4th Circuit’s previous mandate and whether the district court “faithfully executed” it. Mangum argued that the district court erred in not compelling the BOP to consider all relevant factors, and Gregory agreed.

When the 4th Circuit reversed the district court’s original opinion, Gregory said, they did so because it overlooked a flaw in the BOP’s exercise of its broad discretion. He said the BOP erred by requesting the opinion of the federal sentencing court in the first place because at the time Mangum was sentenced, district judges in the circuit could not order that federal sentences run consecutive to an anticipated state sentence.

While such precedent has since been overruled by the Supreme Court’s 2012 opinion in Setser v. U.S., Gregory said the BOP should have used its discretion to “weigh heavily what the state judge did say, rather than what the federal judge did not and could not say.”

However, Gregory said these instructions were not followed.

“The BOP disregarded these instructions on remand,” Gregory said. “The BOP again asked the federal sentencing court whether it would have ordered that Mangum serve his federal sentence concurrently with or consecutive to his state sentence. The BOP’s letter clearly indicates that its nunc pro tunc determination would ultimately turn on the federal sentencing court’s response.”

Elsewhere in the opinion, Gregory objected to the BOP’s characterization of the 4th Circuit’s orders as “dicta” and its failure to explain this characterization or to consider the state court’s opinion on Mangum’s sentence. He also criticized the North Carolina Eastern District court for having “overlooked the flaws in the BOP’s analysis” when Mangum filed his motion to compel.

Ultimately, while the BOP is not bound by the state court’s sentencing, Gregory said the state court’s opinion “is entitled to more weight than the BOP gave it.”

Lineberry and Burchard handled the appeal, with the assistance of their professor, Stephen Braga, as part of the year-long litigation clinic. The students argued the case just weeks into their fall semester.

“The team was so committed to securing a just outcome for Mr. Mangum, and Amanda did a phenomenal job of stressing his humanity,” Burchard said. “We are so pleased that his case will now receive the consideration it deserves.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina declined to comment.

VLW 018-2-233

Virginia Lawyers Weekly