346 F.2d 428 (4th Cir. 1965), 9710, United States v. Walker

Docket Nº:9710.
Citation:346 F.2d 428
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Elmer Wilson WALKER, Appellant.
Case Date:May 25, 1965
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 428

346 F.2d 428 (4th Cir. 1965)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Elmer Wilson WALKER, Appellant.

No. 9710.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

May 25, 1965

Argued March 1, 1965.

Albert R. Turnbull, Norfolk, Va. (Court-assigned counsel) (Fine, Fine, Legum, Schwan & Fine, Norfolk, Va., on brief), for appellant.

Harold Gavaris, Asst. U.S. Atty. (C. V. Spratley, Jr., U.S. Atty., on brief), for appellee.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and BRYAN and BELL, Circuit Judges.

ALBERT V. BRYAN, Circuit Judge.

The ultimate sentence pronounced by the District Court on his conviction, Elmer Wilson Walker tells us, is invalid under the Fifth Amendment because it punishes him twice for the same offense, in that it increases the term of his original sentence. United States v. Benz, 282 U.S. 304, 307, 51 S.Ct. 113, 75 L.Ed. 354 (1931); Ex parte Lange, 18 Wall. 163, 168, 85 U.S. 163, 168, 21 L.Ed. 872 (1873); King v. United States, 69 App.D.C. 10, 98 F.2d 291, 296 (1938). We agree.

The hardship-- and the District Court earnestly strove to avoid it-- came about in the application of 18 U.S.C. § 4208(b), which allows a trial court to obtain the recommendation of the Bureau of Prisons of an advisable disposition of a criminal case after conviction. Walker had committed, on a Government reservation within Virginia, what would have been a felony under the State law-- the passing of a bad check for $50. §§ 6-129 and 18.1-100, Code of Va. 1950. By virtue of the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 13, he had thus perpetrated a Federal felony.

On his plea of guilty, the District Court placed him in the Attorney General's custody for study and advice under 4208(b). This statute automatically imposes during the period of the reference a tentative sentence for the maximum term of imprisonment permissible-- here 5 years. A chronology of the steps leading to Walker's present incarceration follows:

July 10, 1962-- tentative statutory sentence of 5 years (with defendant present) under 18 U.S.C. § 4208(b);

October 31, 1962-- final sentence passed (in absence of defendant), after

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report from Bureau of Prisons; tentative sentence reduced to 3 years, with service of 6 months required but retroactive to July 10, 1962, and with suspension of remainder of term under conditions of probation;

December 10, 1962-- release upon expiration of 6 months imprisonment and probation begun;

March 1963-- probation violated;

April 23, 1963-- probation revoked for violation; suspension terminated and commitment for service of remainder of sentence (2 1/2 years);

April 18, 1964-- letter from Walker to the District Judge, treated as a motion, referring to United States v. Behrens, 375 U.S. 162, 84 S.Ct. 295, 11 L.Ed.2d 224 (1963) which held it error to pass final sentence under § 4208(b) in absentia, and asking that he be returned for resentencing because of error in final sentence of 3 years on October 31, 1962 due to his absence when sentenced;

June 15, 1964-- with Walker present, after explanation to him by the Court of the risk of his request to be re-sentenced, both the sentence passed on October 31, 1962 and the commitment for probation violation entered on April 23, 1963 were vacated;

June 15, 1964-- imposition of any sentence whatever suspended, and Walker placed on probation for 5 years;

October 2, 1964-- for violation of last probation, suspension terminated and a sentence of 5 years imprisonment imposed, with credit for all time served and good conduct deductions.

He now appeals the 5-year sentence.

Walker's motive in asking for the re-sentence was to have his maximum confinement established beyond peradventure. In United States v. Behrens, supra, 375 U.S. 162, 84 S.Ct. 295, it was held, to repeat, that a sentence passed upon consideration of the report made pursuant to § 4208(b) was erroneous if the defendant was not in court. He was justifiably apprehensive of the jeopardy of an undelimited imprisonment which might be the result if Behrens were thought ex proprio vigore to annul the sentence. His venture might well be termed a quia timet motion. Technically, it fits into Rule 35, F.R.Crim.P. allowing the Court to correct an illegal sentence.

His testimony on the day the 3-year sentence was rescinded graphically depicts his dilemma:

'My basic reason for this, Your Honor, was just to get it squared away. I mean I come with no hopes of maybe being released, or this or that. I wanted to get it squared away so I'll hear no more from it, if ever possible. Of course, you always have a hope, but the thing was-- I am almost certain that I am-- like I say, I was going to make parole, and I think I will after I get back up there, if I go back, or whatever happens to me, and this is what-- I'm scared I'm going to hurt if I ask you to vacate it, and if not, I don't know what to do, but the thing is, I want the thing basically legalized, or whatever it is that was wrong with it. That was my intention.'

The contention of Walker is that his detention should be limited to the final sentence of 3 years fixed by the Court on October 31, 1962, after receipt of the report from the Bureau of Prisons. While he questioned the sentence in his letter-motion of April 18, 1964, he stresses that he never charged it was void. His argument is that it was merely erroneous and he asked only for resentencing. Correction of the error, he maintains, could not justify, either immediately or conditionally, an incarceration for more than the 3 years of the October 31, 1962 sentence.

On the other hand, the United States asserts that the 3-year sentence was of no effect at all because of Walker's absence when it was handed down, and consequently the District Court had the power, right and duty to reassume jurisdiction. This the Court did, the Government

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continues, on June 15, 1964 when it suspended all sentence and put Walker on probation for 5 years. With forfeiture of probation, the current sentence of 5 years logically followed, the Government further points out. We think this syllogism is unsound in the present circumstances.

The 3-year sentence was not a nullity, for the Court indisputably had jurisdiction to pass it and it was within the authorized limits of punishment. Murphy v. Com. of Massachusetts, 177 U.S. 155, 159, 20 S.Ct. 639, 44 L.Ed. 711 (1900). Moreover, the defendant did not ask for its vacation-- but rather for its confirmation-- and so he waived his objection of absence. For these reasons the precedents cited by the United States to uphold the sentence of 5 years do not govern here, for in each of them the sentence was attacked as void. E.g., Bozza v. United States, 330 U.S. 160, 166, 67 S.Ct. 645, 91 L.Ed. 818 (1947); Pollard v. United States, 352 U.S. 354, 77 S.Ct. 481, 1 L.Ed.2d 393 (1957); Miller v. Aderhold, 288 U.S. 206, 53 S.Ct. 325, 77 L.Ed. 702 (1933).

Of course, the imposition of the sentence reo absente was deficient in due process procedurally. The defect gave ample ground at defendant's instance for reversal or vitiation of the judgment of sentence-- but not the conviction-- by appeal or on habeas corpus. Nevertheless until adjudged invalid, to repeat, the sentence stood, subsistent and altogether effective. Cf. Murphy v. Com. of Massachusetts, supra, 177 U.S. 155, 159, 20 S.Ct. 639.

Furthermore, it was not alterable by the prosecution save to reduce or correct it as illegal under Rule 35 F.R.Crim.P., for the Government could not appeal or by any other process augment it. United States v. Benz, supra, 282 U.S. 304, 307, 51 S.Ct. 113 (1931). Its integrity was unimpeachable except by the defendant. Ex parte Lange, supra, 85 U.S. 163, 176. He chose to approve the rendition of judgment in absentia and to abide by it. Surely this was his right, just as an accused may consent that his trial proceed without his presence. Glouser v. United States, 296 F.2d 853, 855 (8 Cir. 1961), cert. den. 365 U.S. 825, 82 S.Ct. 840, 7 L.Ed.2d 789; Parker v. United States, 184 F.2d 488, 489 (4 Cir. 1950).

Quite aside, however, from the...

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