Some of the most complex and problematic issues in federal sentencing involve the interaction between simultaneous state and federal sentences. These include whether such sentences run concurrently or consecutively to each other, where is the optimal place to serve time for prison credit purposes, when concurrent sentencing is mandatory or simply discretionary, and when the federal sentence actually begins. The defendant in United States v. Woods, issued on June 25, 2013, is a case in point.
Released on parole after a state court assault conviction, Woods earned, in quick succession, a state arrest for threatening his girlfriend with a firearm and the attention of federal prosecutors for his role in a drug distribution conspiracy. His parole was revoked following the domestic abuse incident, and when a federal grand jury indicted him, he was still serving time on his state parole violation. As a result, when the federal authorities writted him to federal court to answer the federal charges, he was merely “borrowed” from state custody, and therefore earned no custodial credit on the federal case prior to the imposition of sentence. His lawyer obliquely referenced this at sentencing when he said “take a look at that credit . . . and do whatever you think is right with it but I think you should consider that and sentence him at the low end of the guideline range.” The district court sentenced him to the mandatory minimum of 60 months imprisonment, and ordered this sentence to “run concurrent with [the remaining] portion of the [state] sentence from this date forward.”
On appeal, Woods argued, among other issues, that the court should have “credited” him for time spent in state custody, under U.S.S.G. §5G1.3, the sentencing guideline that addresses the sentence of a defendant subject to an undischarged term of imprisonment. Applying plain error review (since defense counsel had not cited to this provision), the Eighth Circuit found no error at all. §5G1.3(b) permits an “adjustment” of the federal sentence under certain circumstances – where the undischarged sentence involved “relevant conduct” to the federal case, or served as the basis for an increase in the offense level of the federal case – none of which applied here. Since the district court had no authority to “adjust” Woods’ sentence for time already served, it had no grounds to sentence him below the mandatory minimum, and in fact sentenced him concurrently going forward, “Woods received the shortest sentence he possibly could have received under the circumstances of his case.”
As this case illustrates, the issue of prison-time credit and concurrent/consecutive sentencing is one fraught with potential to lengthen unnecessarily a defendant’s custodial time. A good starting place when this issue arises is BOP’s Hank Sadowski’s extremely helpful memo on the issue, entitled “Interaction of Federal and State Sentences when the Federal Defendant is Under State Primary Jurisdiction.”