Woosley v. United States

Decision Date24 April 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71-1691.,71-1691.
Citation478 F.2d 139
PartiesRobert Michael WOOSLEY, Defendant-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Dale L. Rollings, St. Charles, Mo., for defendant-appellant.

Robert E. Grote, Asst. U. S. Atty., St. Louis, Mo., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before MATTHES, Chief Judge, VAN OOSTERHOUT, Senior Circuit Judge, and MEHAFFY, GIBSON, LAY, HEANEY, BRIGHT, ROSS and STEPHENSON, Circuit Judges.

BRIGHT, Circuit Judge.

Upon this rehearing en banc of the instant appeal1 we grant relief to Robert Michael Woosley, a Jehovah's Witness, from a five-year prison sentence for refusing induction into the military service in violation of 50 U.S.C. App. § 462.

Appellant was convicted on his guilty plea, which the district court refused to permit him to withdraw. Woosley then appealed the conviction. We sustained this ruling of the district court and affirmed the conviction in United States v. Woosley, 8 Cir., 440 F.2d 1280, cert. denied, 404 U.S. 864, 92 S.Ct. 53, 30 L.Ed.2d 108 (1971). Thereafter, Woosley petitioned the district court under Rule 35, Fed.R.Crim.P. for reduction of his sentence. The court, without a hearing, denied the petition on November 5, 1971, and on November 23, 1971, again without a hearing, denied appellant's motion to reconsider. Woosley now brings this timely appeal from those orders.2

At the time of sentencing, the record showed appellant Woosley to be 19 years of age, married, steadily employed, and a prospective father of a child to be born within two months. His difficulties with the Selective Service System from his sincere religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness, which beliefs do not permit him to take up and bear arms against other people nor permit him to perform civilian service as a conscientious objector at the order of a Selective Service Board, an arm of the military in the view of Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus he did not ask his draft board to classify him as a conscientous objector but did request a ministerial classification. The Board declined this request and thereafter ordered Woosley, a resident of Springfield, Illinois, to report for induction. He declined induction at the induction station in St. Louis, Missouri, and prosecution followed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The district judge described Woosley as "a fine young man," and from the testimony adduced at the hearing on motion for withdrawal of the guilty plea, the court noted that "This young man should have desired to obtain a conscientious objector status."

Without doubt the evidence available to the district court showed Woosley to be a sincere and religiously motivated conscientious objector who failed to qualify for an exemption from military service solely because his religious tenets forbade him to apply for and perform civilian work as a conscientious objector. Notwithstanding this showing, the court pronounced a five-year sentence, the maximum prison term authorized by law. Our reading of the record discloses no indication of the reasons for the severity of the sentence, except a comment made by the court at an earlier hearing on July 10, 1970, when the court, in response to counsel's plea for probation, stated:

THE COURT: Mr. Woosley, I have examined the probation report and these letters very carefully. I have decided what I\'m going to do with you today. I am not going to sentence you today. But I want to be right certain that you understand what you are going to do. It has been my policy, and I don\'t intend to change it at this point, first of all, you have not even asked for a conscientious objector status. I think the reason is obvious, because, apparently, it is your belief that in the event you are classified as a conscientious objector, you would not serve in any noncombatant work. Is that correct?
DEFENDANT WOOSLEY: That is correct, sir.
THE COURT: So I am going to have you surrender to the custody of the marshal this morning. I am going to have sentencing next Friday at ten o\'clock. You think carefully about what you are going to do in this week\'s time. In the meantime I want to discuss it with your counsel further. Transcript of proceedings, July 10, 1970 (emphasis added).

On this appeal, Woosley urges these propositions:

(1) The district court did not resort to appropriate standards in imposing sentence but utilized a "mechanical" and automatic approach in giving him a maximum prison sentence, as evidenced by the sentencing judge's similar treatment of all selective service violators who refused induction regardless of the circumstances of the violation or of the violator;

(2) That the trial court abused its discretion in not granting Woosley probation and in refusing a hearing on his postconviction application for reduction of the sentence under Rule 35.

We hold Woosley is entitled to relief and remand for resentencing under standards enunciated herein.


The federal courts have uniformly agreed that "a sentence imposed by a federal district judge, if within statutory limits, is generally not subject to review." United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443, 447, 92 S.Ct. 589, 591, 30 L.Ed.2d 592 (1972); see, e. g., Gore v. United States, 357 U.S. 386, 393, 78 S.Ct. 1280, 2 L.Ed.2d 1405 (1958); Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 305, 52 S.Ct. 180, 76 L.Ed. 306 (1932); Gurera v. United States, 40 F.2d 338, 340-341 (8th Cir. 1930).3

This circuit has generally adhered to the principle that a sentence within statutory limits should not be disturbed if the district court has exercised discretion in imposing the sentence. United States v. Smallwood, 443 F.2d 535, 543, cert. denied, 404 U.S. 853, 92 S.Ct. 95, 30 L.Ed.2d 93 (1971); United States v. Dennison, 437 F.2d 439, 440 (1971); Cassidy v. United States, 428 F.2d 585, 588 (1970). Yet, in fact, this court has undertaken to review the severity of sentences following a district court's denial of a reduction under Rule 35, Fed.R.Crim.P., although we found no abuse of discretion on the part of the district court. Hood v. United States, 469 F.2d 721 (8th Cir. 1972); United States v. Anderson, 466 F.2d 1360 (8th Cir. 1972).4 If we possess the power to review the severity of the sentence or the appropriateness of the sentencing procedure, this appeal from the denial of relief under Rule 35 properly places these issues before us.

The Supreme Court support for the rule that federal appellate courts generally may not review a sentence is pure dicta, 2 C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 533 at 451-52 (1969). See, e. g., Tucker, supra, 404 U.S. 443, 92 S.Ct. 589, 30 L.Ed.2d 592; Gore, supra, 357 U.S. 386, 78 S.Ct. 1280, 2 L.Ed.2d 1405; Blockburger, supra, 284 U.S. 299, 52 S.Ct. 180, 76 L.Ed. 306. However, in a contempt case, Yates v. United States, 356 U.S. 363, 78 U.S. 766, 2 L.Ed.2d 837 (1958), the Court not only reviewed the severity of the sentence imposed by the district court, but also set it aside and imposed its own sentence. The Court observed:

Reversing a judgment for contempt because of errors of substantive law may naturally call for a reduction of the sentence based on an extent of wrongdoing found unsustainable in law. Such reduction of the sentence, however, normally ought not be made by this Court. It should be left, on remand, to the sentencing court. And so, when this Court found that only a single offense was committed by petitioner, and not eleven offenses, it chose not to reduce the sentence but to leave this task, with gentle intimations of the necessity for such action, to the District Court. However, when in a situation like this the District Court appears not to have exercised its discretion in the light of the reversal of the judgment but, in effect, to have sought merely to justify the original sentence, this Court has no alternative except to exercise its supervisory power over the administration of justice in the lower federal courts by setting aside the sentence of the District Court.
* * * Not unmindful of petitioner\'s offense, this Court is of the view, exercising the judgment that we are now called upon to exercise, that the time that petitioner has already served in jail is an adequate punishment * * * and is to be deemed in satisfaction of the new sentence herein ordered formally to be imposed. Accordingly, the writ of certiorari is granted, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the cause remanded to the District Court with directions to reduce the sentence to the time petitioner has already been confined in the course of these proceedings. Id. at 366-367, 78 S.Ct. at 768-769.

From our review of the cases, we think it clear that the repetitive pronouncement of the general rule of unreviewability of sentences imposed within statutory limits does not insulate from review every sentence within statutory limits.


We believe that we have the power to examine and review a sentence if it is shown to have been imposed on a mechanical basis. Appellant asserts that the district judge in referring to "my policy" in the sentencing proceeding held on July 10, 1970, (see p. 140, supra) clearly meant that he sentenced all defendants convicted of refusing induction to a maximum five-year prison term. Although the record does not clearly disclose this meaning, counsel for appellant states in his brief that his examination of the district court records uncovered no selective service case where this district judge imposed less than the maximum term of imprisonment for refusing induction under § 462. At oral argument the United States Attorney referred to his research into sentences pronounced by the district judge for defendants who have refused induction into military service. Restricting consideration to sentences in the Eastern Division of Missouri, we understand the statements of...

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