US v. James Townsend
UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 7:14-cr-00106-D-1 Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. .. [17-4024]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Plaintiff - Appellee,
JAMES LOUIS TOWNSEND,
Defendant - Appellant.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at
Wilmington. James C. Dever III, Chief District Judge. (7:14-cr-00106-D-1)
Submitted: August 28, 2017
Decided: September 19, 2017
Before MOTZ, SHEDD, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Thomas P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, Jennifer C. Leisten, Research & Writing
Attorney, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. John Stuart Bruce, United States
Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, First Assistant United States Attorney, Donald R.
Pender, Assistant United States Attorney, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.
Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
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James Louis Townsend pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement to conspiracy to
distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin, in violation
of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B)(i), 846 (2012). The district court calculated an advisory
Sentencing Guidelines range of 60 to 71 months’ imprisonment, but upon determining
that Townsend’s criminal history category underrepresented his criminal history and
assessing the likelihood of recidivism, departed upward, pursuant to U.S. Sentencing
Guidelines Manual § 4A1.3(a), p.s. (2015), raising Townsend’s criminal history category
by two levels and the resulting Guidelines range to 77 to 96 months’ imprisonment. The
district court then applied a downward departure, lowering Townsend’s Guidelines range
to the 60-month statutory minimum. Finally, the district court varied upward to a final
sentence of 84 months, explaining that Townsend’s criminal history and the nature of the
instant offense justified the sentence.
On appeal, Townsend contends that his 84-month sentence is substantively
unreasonable because the court’s reasoning did not support its decision to upwardly
depart pursuant to § 4A1.3, p.s. He contends that his criminal history category already
accounted for his convictions because he did not have any prior unscored offenses that
typically form the basis for such upward departures. Townsend further complains that
the district court focused extensively on his early criminal history while failing to
adequately weigh numerous mitigating factors.
We “review all sentences—whether inside, just outside, or significantly outside
the Guidelines range—under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard.” Gall v. United
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States, 552 U.S. 38, 41 (2007). We consider the substantive reasonableness of the
sentence under “the totality of the circumstances.”
Id. at 51.
“When reviewing a
departure, we consider whether the sentencing court acted reasonably both with respect to
its decision to impose such a sentence and with respect to the extent of the divergence
from the sentencing range.” United States v. Howard, 773 F.3d 519, 529 (4th Cir. 2014)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “[We] owe due deference to a district court’s
assessment of the § 3553(a) factors, and mere disagreement with the sentence below is
insufficient to justify reversal of the district court.” Id. at 531 (internal quotation marks
We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in departing upward
in calculating Townsend’s advisory Guidelines range. The district court discussed each
of Townsend’s convictions, and concluded that an upward departure was warranted in
light of the violent nature of his crimes, the lenient sentences he previously received, and
his recidivism. Although Townsend did not have any of the unscored violations that
sometimes form the basis for such a departure, see USSG § 4A1.3(a)(2)(A)-(C), p.s., cmt.
2(A)(i)-(iii), the district court was justified in considering these other factors in ruling on
the departure. See USSG § 4A1.3, p.s., background. Therefore, both the district court’s
decision to depart and the extent of the departure are reasonable.
The district court also reasonably applied the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (2012) factors.
The court considered the nature of the offense, Townsend’s criminal history, and
numerous other relevant factors in concluding that the 84-month sentence was necessary.
The court specifically referenced mitigating factors such as Townsend’s difficult
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childhood, the fact that he had obtained his GED, the circumstances of Townsend’s
recruitment into the conspiracy, the remorse he expressed for his actions, and the steps he
had taken toward rehabilitation, in its thorough discussion of the § 3553(a) factors and its
ultimate conclusion that, under all the circumstances, 84 months of imprisonment were
warranted. We therefore hold that the 84-month sentence is substantively reasonable.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment. We dispense with oral
argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented before this
court and argument would not aid the decisional process.
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