USA v. Sharon Graham
Per Curiam OPINION filed : AFFIRMED, decision not for publication. Ralph B. Guy , Jr., Circuit Judge; Julia Smith Gibbons, Circuit Judge and Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0315n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Apr 24, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF
BEFORE: GUY, GIBBONS, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
PER CURIAM. Sharon Graham appeals her 18-month sentence as procedurally and
substantively unreasonable. As set forth below, we affirm.
Graham pleaded guilty to uttering or passing counterfeit currency, in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 472. According to Graham’s plea agreement, the parties stipulated to an applicable
base offense level of 9 under USSG § 2B5.1. The United States agreed to seek a two-level
reduction for acceptance of responsibility.
At Graham’s initial sentencing hearing, the district court calculated a guidelines range of
12 to 18 months based on a total offense level of 7 — the stipulated base offense level of 9
reduced by 2 levels for acceptance of responsibility — and a criminal history category of V. The
government moved for a 3-level downward departure for substantial assistance, which the
district court “somewhat reluctantly” accepted, resulting in a guidelines range of 4 to 10 months.
United States v. Graham
(R. 84, 10/9/13 Sent. Tr. 12, PageID# 427). During Graham’s allocution, the district court
questioned her about the pending charges listed in her presentence report: tampering with
records, forgery; endangering children; and operating a motor vehicle under the influence.
Despite the district court’s warnings that any false statements would have a bearing on her
sentence, including the possibility of an upward adjustment for obstructing or impeding the
administration of justice, Graham insisted that those charges were not her cases and that
someone had used her identity.
The district court continued the sentencing hearing for
verification of the charges against Graham.
Upon reconvening, the government was prepared to present the officers and video from
Graham’s arrest for operating a motor vehicle under the influence. Graham, having reviewed the
video, admitted that the video depicted her arrest. The district court observed that “[t]his issue,
while it may appear to be [tangential], . . . it goes directly to the history and characteristics of the
defendant, and also goes to her honesty and integrity and candor when addressing the court in
mitigation.” (R. 86, 10/22/13 Sent. Tr. 6, PageID# 450). After addressing the sentencing factors
under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and stating a guidelines range of 12 to 18 months based on a total
offense level of 7 and a criminal history category of V, the district court sentenced Graham to
18 months of imprisonment, “the high end of the guidelines,” followed by three years of
supervised release, and ordered her to pay restitution in the amount of $100. (Id. at 17, PageID#
461). When the district court asked for any objections to the sentence, defense counsel pointed
out that the district court overlooked the 3-level downward departure for Graham’s substantial
assistance. The district court corrected the guidelines calculation to produce a guidelines range
of 4 to 10 months, but varied upward from that range, concluding that an 18-month sentence was
United States v. Graham
In this timely appeal, Graham challenges the 18-month sentence as procedurally and
substantively unreasonable. We review the district court’s sentencing determination for both
procedural and substantive reasonableness under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. Gall
v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51-52 (2007).
We “must first ensure that the district court committed no significant procedural error,
such as failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the Guidelines range, treating the
Guidelines as mandatory, failing to consider the § 3553(a) factors, selecting a sentence based on
clearly erroneous facts, or failing to adequately explain the chosen sentence — including an
explanation for any deviation from the Guidelines range.” Id. at 51. Graham contends that the
district court simply reaffirmed the 18-month sentence without reference to the § 3553(a) factors
and without adequately explaining the chosen sentence or the deviation from the guidelines
range. The district court initially imposed an 18-month sentence after a thorough analysis of the
§ 3553(a) factors. Upon correcting the guidelines range, the district court stated:
I will stand by the 18-month sentence. It will be an upward variance based on the
facts that I’ve talked about here, the circumstances of her prior record and history,
her failure to provide the court with truthful and accurate information here in open
court and necessitating a further hearing. While not overstating it, it gives rise to
the fact that the defendant is not a good candidate for any noncustodial sentence.
It also indicates that a lengthier sentence is needed once again to meet the
purposes of the sentencing statute, just punishment, adequate deterrence, reflect
the seriousness of the offense.
The defendant . . . has not responded well to prior sanctions that were imposed for
her numerous, numerous prior convictions, including the length of this sentence
she’s had of one year or 12 months.
And so, therefore, . . . I will vary upward to the 18 months that I previously
imposed, acknowledge that is outside the plea agreement, but I believe that the 18
months is appropriate for all the reasons I’ve previously stated.
(R. 86, 10/22/13 Sent. Tr. 21-22, PageID## 465-66). The district court specifically referred to
several § 3553(a) factors in imposing the 18-month sentence as an upward variance and
United States v. Graham
adequately explained that sentence. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), (2)(A)-(B), (3). The record
reflects a procedurally reasonable sentence.
“For a sentence to be substantively reasonable, it must be proportionate to the seriousness
of the circumstances of the offense and offender, and sufficient but not greater than necessary, to
comply with the purposes of § 3553(a).” United States v. Vowell, 516 F.3d 503, 512 (6th Cir.
2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where, as in this case, the district court imposes a
sentence outside the guidelines range, we “may consider the extent of the deviation, but must
give due deference to the district court’s decision that the § 3553(a) factors, on a whole, justify
the extent of the variance.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 51. “A sentence may be considered substantively
unreasonable when the district court selects a sentence arbitrarily, bases the sentence on
impermissible factors, fails to consider relevant sentencing factors, or gives an unreasonable
amount of weight to any pertinent factor.” United States v. Conatser, 514 F.3d 508, 520 (6th
Graham asserts that the district court arbitrarily selected the 18-month sentence without
addressing the § 3553(a) factors and gave an unreasonable amount of weight to her inaccurate
statements at the initial sentencing hearing.
As noted above, the district court expressly
referenced several § 3553(a) factors in imposing the 18-month sentence as an upward variance.
The district court did consider Graham’s false statements, which required continuing the
sentencing hearing to verify the pending charges and cast doubt on her cooperation, but also
considered other factors, such as her lengthy criminal record and her prior incarceration’s
insufficiency to deter her. See United States v. Jeter, 721 F.3d 746, 757-58 (6th Cir. 2013).
In support of her argument that her sentence is substantively unreasonable, Graham
points out that the district court declined to enhance her sentence for obstructing or impeding the
United States v. Graham
administration of justice under USSG § 3C1.1, which would have been limited to a 2-level
But the district court’s upward variance was based not only on Graham’s false
statements, but also on her lengthy criminal record and the fact that her prior 12-month
incarceration did not deter her.
Graham also argues that the district court did not depart upward based on her criminal
history under USSG § 4A1.3(a)(1) but cited her criminal history as a basis for an upward
variance under the § 3553(a) factors. Given the broader discretion involved in variances, “a
district court does not necessarily abuse its discretion in considering criminal history that would
not otherwise support a § 4A1.3 departure when that criminal history is directly relevant to the
§ 3553(a) factors.” United States v. Tristan-Madrigal, 601 F.3d 629, 635 (6th Cir. 2010).
Finally, Graham contends that her 18-month sentence creates an unwarranted disparity
with her codefendant, Deeana Pickett, who received four years of probation.
explained, however, that [the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities] concerns national
disparities between defendants with similar criminal histories convicted of similar criminal
conduct — not disparities between codefendants.” Conatser, 514 F.3d at 521. “Disparities
between the sentences of coconspirators can exist for valid reasons, such as differences in
criminal histories, the offenses of conviction, or one coconspirator’s decision to plead guilty and
cooperate with the government.” Id. at 522. The disparity between Graham’s sentence and
Pickett’s is explained by Graham’s dishonest allocution and the ineffectiveness of her prior
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Graham’s 18-month sentence as procedurally and
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