United States v. Lewis

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation802 F.3d 449
Docket NumberNo. 10–2931.,10–2931.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. Jermel LEWIS, a/k/a Star, a/k/a PR–Star, a/k/a P Jermel Lewis, Appellant.
Decision Date16 September 2015

802 F.3d 449

Jermel LEWIS, a/k/a Star, a/k/a PR–Star, a/k/a P Jermel Lewis, Appellant.

No. 10–2931.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Argued on May 27, 2014 before Merits Panel.
Court Ordered Rehearing En Banc on Nov. 25, 2014.

Argued En Banc on Feb. 19, 2015.

Opinion filed: Sept. 16, 2015.

802 F.3d 451

Paul J. Hetznecker, Esquire, (Argued), Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellant Jermel Lewis.

Robert A. Zauzmer, Esquire, (Argued), Arlene D. Fisk, Esquire, Office of United States Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellee United States of America.

Michael P. Addis, Esquire, (Argued), J. Wesley Earnhardt, Esquire, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York, NY, Counsel for Amicus Amachi, Inc.



RENDELL, Circuit Judge:

Jermel Lewis was sentenced for a crime with a seven-year mandatory minimum—brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence—notwithstanding the fact that a jury had not convicted him of that crime. Instead, he had been convicted of the crime of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, which has a five-year mandatory minimum. Lewis was never even indicted for the crime of brandishing. In Alleyne v. United States, the Supreme Court held that this scenario, i.e., sentencing a defendant for an aggravated crime when he was indicted and tried only for a lesser crime, violates a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2163–64, 186 L.Ed.2d 314 (2013). Even though that constitutional issue is settled, we still must address the issue of whether the error that transpired in this case was harmless. We conclude that the error was not harmless because it contributed to the sentence Lewis received. Accordingly, we will vacate Lewis's sentence and remand for resentencing.

I. Background

Lewis and his codefendants Glorious Shavers and Andrew White (collectively, “Defendants”) committed an armed robbery of an unlicensed after-hours “speakeasy” in North Philadelphia on November 8, 2005. Shavers and White were charged on March 20, 2008, with robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), and with using or carrying a firearm during

802 F.3d 452

and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). On July 10, 2008, a superseding indictment charged Lewis with the same offenses and added attempted witness tampering charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1) against all Defendants. On August 20, 2009, a second superseding indictment added further witness tampering charges and a count of conspiracy to commit robbery against all Defendants. Count three of the second superseding indictment—the only count at issue here—charged that Defendants “knowingly used and carried, and aided and abetted the use and carrying of, a firearm ... during and in relation to a crime of violence.” (App. 71.) The indictment did not include a count for brandishing a firearm.

Defendants were tried in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania beginning on September 9, 2009. The District Court instructed the jury that Lewis was charged with “using and carrying a firearm during the crime of violence”; it did not instruct the jury on a brandishing offense.1 (App. 2019.) The jury found all Defendants guilty of using or carrying a firearm and the Hobbs Act violations, but Lewis was acquitted of the witness tampering charges. Lewis was ultimately sentenced to a term of 132 months' incarceration to be followed by five years of supervised release. The 132 months consisted of 48 months' incarceration on each of the two Hobbs Act counts, to run concurrently, and 84 months' incarceration, the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for brandishing a firearm, to run consecutively. Lewis timely objected to being sentenced for brandishing a firearm because the jury found only that he had used or carried.

Section 924(c)(1)(A) imposes differing mandatory minimum sentences depending upon whether the defendant “uses or carries,” “brandishe[s],” or “discharge[s]” a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. These are three “separate, aggravated offense[s].” Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2162. Indeed, they are in separate subparts of § 924(c)(1)(A). Compare 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) (uses or carries), with id. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) (brandishes), with id. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) (discharges). Because Lewis was charged with and convicted of the “uses or carries” offense, but sentenced for the “brandishes” offense, he was sentenced for a crime for which he was neither charged nor convicted.

Following sentencing, Defendants raised various issues on appeal. Relevant here, we affirmed Lewis's sentence. United States v. Shavers, 693 F.3d 363, 397 (3d Cir.2012). The Supreme Court granted Defendants' petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated our judgment, and remanded for further consideration in light of its decision in Alleyne, which had been decided after our ruling. See Shavers v. United States, ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2877, 186 L.Ed.2d 902 (2013).

On remand, the Government continued to oppose Lewis's Alleyne argument, urging that the error was harmless. On September 9, 2014, a divided panel of this Court affirmed, holding, “in light of the overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence in support of the brandishing element that, had the jury been properly instructed on that element, it would have found that element beyond a reasonable doubt,” and “[a]ny resulting error was therefore harmless.” United States v. Lewis, 766 F.3d 255, 271 (3d Cir.2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). On November 25, 2014, we vacated the panel opinion and subsequently reconsidered this appeal en banc.

802 F.3d 453

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Allegations of constitutional error at sentencing are subject to plenary review. United States v. Barbosa, 271 F.3d 438, 452 (3d Cir.2001).

III. Discussion

The parties do not agree on the framework that we should apply to this appeal. Lewis urges that his Alleyne error constitutes one of the following: a structural error, a constructive amendment to the indictment, a presumptively prejudicial error, or a pure sentencing error under harmless-error review. The Government, conceding that there was an Alleyne error, urges us to apply harmless-error review, but would have us examine the trial record in addition to the sentence. Because we will vacate based upon harmless-error review, which is the standard less favorable to Lewis, we need not address Lewis's other arguments. We need address only whether the error was a sentencing error or a trial error and then apply the appropriate standard, which in our case is the standard for sentencing errors. We note, accordingly, that we do not opine as to the applicability of the alternative standards more favorable to Lewis, the choice of which would present particularly thorny issues of law.2

We begin by considering the Supreme Court's opinion in Alleyne, which held that brandishing a firearm was a separate, aggravated offense from using or carrying a firearm, and that the aggravated offense must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. We will then discuss the appropriate remedy here, in light of the Government's argument that the error was harmless.

A. Alleyne

The similarities between Alleyne and Lewis's case are noteworthy. Both Alleyne and Lewis were charged with using or carrying a firearm. Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2155. Each jury considered only whether Alleyne or Lewis had used or carried a firearm, not whether they had brandished one. Id. at 2156. Both Alleyne and Lewis were convicted of using or carrying. Id. Both Alleyne's and Lewis's presentence report recommended a seven-year sentence on the firearm count, in accordance with the mandatory minimum for brandishing. Id. Both Alleyne and Lewis timely objected and contended that their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial had been violated because they were convicted of an offense with a five-year mandatory minimum, but sentenced as if they had been convicted of one with a seven-year mandatory minimum. Id. Both district courts overruled the objection because Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545, 122 S.Ct. 2406, 153 L.Ed.2d 524 (2002), foreclosed the argument.3 Alleyne, 133 S.Ct. at 2156.

802 F.3d 454

In Alleyne, the Supreme Court held that if a defendant is convicted of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, but is instead sentenced for brandishing a firearm, the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to be tried by a jury for the crime of brandishing a firearm has been violated. Id. at 2163–64. The Supreme Court overruled Harris and held that brandishing a firearm is a “separate, aggravated offense that must be found by the jury.” Id. at 2162. The Alleyne Court thus “vacate [d] the Fourth Circuit's judgment with respect to Alleyne's sentence on the...

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