USA v. Kenneth Hodges, Jr.
OPINION filed : AFFIRMED, decision not for publication. Alice M. Batchelder, AUTHORING Circuit Judge; John M. Rogers, Circuit Judge and Raymond M. Kethledge, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION
File Name: 16a0090n.06
Feb 10, 2016
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
KENNETH RICHARD HODGES, JR.,
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE EASTERN
DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
BATCHELDER, ROGERS, and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.
ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge. In 2014, Kenneth Hodges, Jr. pleaded
guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin. He now contends that his counsel was ineffective
during the plea-bargaining process and that his sentence is procedurally and substantively
unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
Kenneth Hodges, Jr. and his co-defendants began distributing heroin in Pike County,
Kentucky, in April of 2013. In November 2013, a federal grand jury indicted Hodges and
fourteen co-defendants. The thirty-one count indictment named Hodges in eight counts: one
count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, five counts of distribution of heroin, one count of
possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and one count of possession of oxycodone with
intent to distribute.
United States v. Hodges
Sometime prior to April 28, 2014, Hodges, represented by counsel, attempted to execute
a plea agreement in which he pleaded guilty to only the conspiracy count. His counsel, however,
missed the plea deadline. The government subsequently filed a superseding indictment, which
charged Hodges with the same counts but attributed to him a higher drug quantity (one kilogram
or more of heroin) and created the potential for harsher punishment.
Hodges then retained new counsel.
The government subsequently offered a plea
agreement in which Hodges pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count of the original indictment—
meaning that the government would dismiss both the remaining counts in the original indictment
and the entire superseding indictment. In return, the new plea agreement stipulated that the
government could “argue for a variance above the applicable guideline range.” Notably, Hodges
stipulated in the new agreement to being “an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that
involved 5 or more participants.” Hodges entered the guilty plea, and the district court accepted
it on April 28, 2014.
Hodges’s Presentence Report (“PSR”) calculated his offense level as 27 and his criminal
history category as I. The PSR calculated this offense level by attributing to Hodges at least 100
grams but less than 400 grams of heroin. This offense level carried with it a recommended
guidelines range of 70 to 87 months’ imprisonment.
At sentencing, Hodges requested—and the district court granted—a two-level reduction
because of retroactive
of a change in the Sentencing Commission’s
recommendations. This left Hodges with an offense level of 25 and a criminal history category
of I, which called for a recommended range of 57 to 71 months’ imprisonment. The government
then asked the court to vary upward “based on numerous factors.”
First, the government
contended that it could attribute to Hodges one kilogram or more of heroin, despite the fact that
United States v. Hodges
Hodges pleaded to a drug quantity of 100 to 400 grams. Second, the government noted the
history and characteristics of Hodges—that he was older and educated, that he was not an addict,
that he hailed from outside the community, that he had likely been involved in distributing heroin
for some time, and that there was a need to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect
for the law, and dole out just punishment. The government ultimately requested a sentencing
range of 96 to 120 months’ imprisonment.
The district court agreed that an upward variance was appropriate. But the court refused
to vary as much as the government had requested, noting that Hodges “deserves something” for
his “lack of criminal history.” It settled on 84 months’ imprisonment and twenty years of
supervised release as “a fair sentence in this case for a number of reasons.” First, the court noted
that a lower sentence would create “sentencing disparities in this case alone.” Second, the
sentence “reflects how serious an offense this is, bringing heroin into this community, exposing
young ones to it” such that the sentence “promotes respect for the law, provides just punishment,
and affords adequate deterrence.” Third, the twenty years of supervised release would protect
the public. Fourth, the variance was appropriate “when you consider . . . that the defendant was
.. . the unquestioned leader, when you consider the fact that the defendant is an educated man
that should have known better and should be a role model for those in society.” Hodges’s
counsel objected to the above-guidelines sentence. The court overruled the objection and entered
judgment for 84 months’ imprisonment and twenty years of supervised release. Hodges timely
As an initial matter, we decline to address Hodges’s claim that his counsel was
ineffective because counsel missed the plea deadline. Our general rule is that “a defendant may
United States v. Hodges
not raise ineffective assistance of counsel claims for the first time on direct appeal, since there
has not been an opportunity to develop and include in the record evidence bearing on the merits
of the allegations.” United States v. Woodruff, 735 F.3d 445, 451 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal
quotation marks omitted). We will disregard this general rule only in “rare circumstances.”
United States v. Sypher, 684 F.3d 622, 626 (6th Cir. 2012). Seeing both a need for more factual
development and no countervailing rare circumstances, we “leave the defendant to the preferred
mechanism of raising a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.”
United States v. Williams, 753 F.3d 626, 636 (6th Cir. 2014).
Hodges also makes several arguments as to why his sentence is unreasonable. “This
Court reviews sentences for procedural and substantive reasonableness.”
Adkins, 729 F.3d 559, 563 (6th Cir. 2013).
United States v.
First, we must 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
[18 U.S.C.] § 3553(a) factors, selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts, or failing to
adequately explain the chosen sentence.” Id. (quoting Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 51
“If no procedural error occurred, the Court must then ‘consider the substantive
reasonableness of the sentence imposed under an abuse-of-discretion standard.’” Id. (quoting
Gall, 552 U.S. at 51). “The sentence may be substantively unreasonable if the district court
chooses the sentence arbitrarily, grounds the sentence on impermissible factors, or unreasonably
weighs a pertinent factor.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
reasonableness inquiry takes into account the totality of the circumstances, including the extent
of any variance from the Guidelines range.” United States v. Abdulmutallab, 739 F.3d 891, 908
United States v. Hodges
(6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). That being said, “if the sentence is outside
the Guidelines range, the court may not apply a presumption of unreasonableness.”
552 U.S. at 51.
As for procedural reasonableness, Hodges contends that the district court based his
sentence on clearly erroneous facts, namely that he was a professional drug dealer and caused
damage to the community. Although the government argued that Hodges had been selling drugs
for some time, there is no indication that the district court based its sentence on that argument;
the court never mentioned it during its explanation of the sentence. Nor, for that matter, is there
any indication that such a factual finding would be clearly erroneous. The court did, however,
note that Hodges’s offense exposed the community’s youth to a serious drug. It is not clearly
erroneous to conclude that distribution of heroin in a community caused damage to that
community. “Society as a whole is the victim when illegal drugs are being distributed in its
communities.” United States v. Green, 532 F.3d 538, 549 (6th Cir. 2008). To say that Hodges’s
crimes are victimless “is false to the point of absurdity.” United States v. Cole, 526 F. App’x
638, 642 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Hodges “victimized individuals (by
selling addictive drugs to them) and the community (by making addictive drugs readily available
in the area).” Id. The district court committed no procedural error.
Hodges also makes several substantive reasonableness arguments. First, he argues that
the district court grounded its sentence on impermissible factors. The first alleged impermissible
factor was the higher drug quantity argued by the government. As he admits in his brief,
however, “the District Court appeared to not sentence Hodges for having 1 kilo of heroin.” In
United States v. Hodges
fact, the district court stated that it was “uncomfortable with the drug quantity” argument
because the government had allowed Hodges to plead to a lower amount, but asked at sentencing
for a sentence based on the higher amount. The court also never mentioned the drug quantity
during its explanation for the variance. The court did not, therefore, ground Hodges’s sentence
in the higher drug quantity.
Hodges also argues that the district court based his sentence on the impermissible factors
of his age, his education, and his role in the community. These are not impermissible factors,
however. Section 3553(a) requires the district court to consider the history and characteristics of
the defendant. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(l). Hodges’s age, education, and role in the community
are characterized properly as history and characteristics of the defendant and thus may be
considered by the district court. See United States v. Mesteth, 687 F.3d 1034, 1036 (8th Cir.
Second, Hodges argues that the factors the district court considered were already taken
into consideration in his base offense level. We have rejected this exact argument, as it would
mean “that in any case where the Guidelines calculation encompassed all of the § 3553(a)
factors, any sentence outside of the recommended range (whether above or below that range)
always would be substantively unreasonable if the district court again mentioned those factors.”
United States v. Tristan-Madrigal, 601 F.3d 629, 636 n.l (6th Cir. 2010). “This would preclude
the district court from being able to comply with § 3553(a)’s mandate and would have the
practical effect of making the Guidelines again mandatory, which is plainly not the law.” Id.
Third, Hodges criticizes the district court for its failing to balance correctly the § 3553(a)
factors, specifically by ignoring his lack of criminal history. The district court did not, however,
ignore Hodges’s lack of criminal history; in fact, it explicitly rejected the severity of the
United States v. Hodges
government’s requested variance because of his lack of criminal history. Hodges’s argument
boils down to an assertion that the district court should have balanced the § 3553(a) factors
differently, but that “is simply beyond the scope of our appellate review, which looks to whether
the sentence is reasonable, as opposed to whether in the first instance we would have imposed
the same sentence.” United States v. Sexton, 512 F.3d 326, 332 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Finally, Hodges argues that the district court chose an unreasonable sentence because of
the sentencing disparities between Hodges and other co-defendants. As the district court noted,
however, a true avoidance of sentencing disparities would have led to a higher, not a lower,
sentence for Hodges. Either way, the guidelines are concerned with “national disparities among
the many defendants with similar criminal backgrounds convicted of similar criminal conduct.”
United States v. Houston, 529 F.3d 743, 752 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The disparities between co-defendants are not relevant to the sentencing factor in 18 U.S.C.
§ 3553(a)(6). That being said, it was not error for the district court to consider sentencing
disparities among co-defendants. The district court “may exercise [its] discretion and determine
a defendant’s sentence in light of a co-defendant’s sentence” even though it is not required to do
so. United States v. Presley, 547 F.3d 625, 631 (6th Cir. 2008). The district court thus did not
abuse its discretion in this respect or otherwise, and Hodges’s sentence is not substantively
For the foregoing reasons, finding no reversible error, we affirm.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?