Henderson v. United States of America: The Weight of and Wait for Rehabilitation Armarcion D. Henderson was a felon…a felon with a problem of substance abuse. On June 2, 2010, having being found guilty on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana gave an upward deviation from the guidelines of sentencing of 60 months, the norm being 33-41 months, with reasoning solely attributable to the cause of rehabilitation. The court wanted to ensure that Henderson received the proper post-sentencing rehabilitation for his vice.
Mr. Henderson at the time had no objection. On June 10, 2010, slightly more than a week of pondering the close to double term, Henderson petitioned the court, asking for a correction on a clear error – the length of his sentence. On July 30, 2010, the district court denies the motion to correct the sentence for clear error. It should be noted that no such law clearly defined the role of rehabilitation with regard to sentencing of the accused.
A U.S. Supreme Court case involving the almost exact scenario, Tapia v. United States, on June 16, 2011, held the following: “a court may not impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to promote rehabilitation.” Id. at 2393; see also id. at 2385 (“The Sentencing Reform Act precludes federal courts from imposing or lengthening a prison term in order to promote a criminal defendant’s rehabilitation”). (11). This now clarified the otherwise murky law regarding rehabilitation with regard to sentence and gave new life to Henderson’s cause. On July 8, 2011, Henderson filed an appeal to the UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT, before circuit judges, Smith, Southwick, and Graves. His original sentence, however, was affirmed.
5 months later, on December 15, 2011, Henderson petitions the court for a rehearing, en banc, which was subsequently denied per curiam, 7 for, 10 against. Again, on January 30, 2012, Henderson petitioned for rehearing, and again per curiam, it was denied.
Finally, on March 14, 2012, the petitioner Armarcion D. Henderson submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States a petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Additionally, in August 2012, a Brief for Petitioner Armarcion D. Henderson was submitted by Counsel of Record, Patricia A. Gilley, and in September of 2012, an Amicus Curiae Brief of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner and Urging Reversal was submitted. This brings us to two fundamental questions the Supreme Court has chosen to address: 1. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) provides: “A plain error that affects substantial rights may be considered even though it was not brought to the court’s attention.” (9). 2. Should the law at the time of trial prevail over the law at the time of appeal?
The Supreme Court’s possible decisions would be that Henderson, at the time of original hearing, correctly received an upward deviated sentence weighing heavily on the potential of rehabilitation, which preceded the Tapia v. United States decision, and which Henderson himself had no objection. Alternatively, the Court could decide that since post-sentencing rehabilitation has been determined to be inadequate reasoning for upward deviation of sentencing, it should dictate Henderson’s current situation be uniformly adjusted to correct the upward deviation. I believe that a conservative mind would hold to the idea that the original sentence was based on an un-established precedent of rehabilitation determining sentence, and thereby should be upheld as a correct decision that Henderson himself must reconcile as a harsh reality. I base this belief on the tendency of conservative thought to hold to traditional though.
Alternatively, the liberal mind, which mostly embraces progression and change, would promote the belief that Tapia v. United States set a new precedent that Henderson should fairly be a recipient of, regardless of the historical rule. Personally, I believe that Henderson took his eye of the ball of the intent and purpose of rehabilitation, so to speak, and simply later abhorred the idea of additional jail time.
The idea that rehabilitation should not be considered in sentencing, to some extent, undermines the intent and idea of rehabilitation itself. Also, the idea of the Supreme Court reversing a decision based on their own opinion of a matter that was decided much later undermines the integrity of the district court judges that made the original decision
. Our nation’s development has been based on a gradual evolution of thought; it’s a forward-moving entity, not a backward recompense adjustment. Had Henderson received a decision comparable to the decision made in Pepper v. United States, where his sentence was downwardly deviated for the purpose of rehabilitation, I’m sure there would have been no contest. The cases involving rehabilitation consideration for sentencing are not common. A decision upholding the district court sentence would not weaken the Supreme Court’s Tapia v. United States decision, not would a reversal of sentencing for Henderson call for a revalidation of all previous upward deviation court sentencing decisions of the past; they are few and far between. The impact of the Supreme Court decision simply lies in the ideal of current application of law to previous decisions based on unclear, murky law, which favoring the former lends itself to unprecedented appeal. The law at the time, clear or unclear, as decided by the State should be honored.
This case presents a clear example of the judiciary system in its completeness: from district court to courts of appeals to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case surely is based on its recent decision regarding this same issue, but has a deeper involvement in historical precedent: should appealed decisions be overruled based on current thought or upheld based on thought at the time. This case neither promotes the idea that judges should be strict constructionists, nor advances the idea of judicial activism. It lies somewhere in the middle. In my opinion, the models of judicial decision making in this instance should not be shaped by any of the offered variety of forces as outlined on page 270 of Essentials of Government: Roots and Reform: Behavioral Characteristics,
The Attitudinal Model, and The Strategic Model. However, the decision should be shaped by the idea of a district court given the authority and responsibility to determine a sentence that had not yet been clarified. Mr. Henderson, the wait for rehabilitation will be rewarded in the weight of the same.
ReferencesArmarcion D. Henderson v. The United States of America, 11-9307 (2011). Retrieved from thecocklebur.com Academic database .
Armarcion D. Henderson v. The United States of America, 11-9307 (2011)Retrieved from americanbar.org Academic database .Armarcion D. Henderson v. The United States of America, 11-9307 (2011) Retrieved from sblog.s3.amaxonaws.com Academic database < http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/11-9307-Henderson-v.-U.S.-Petition.pdf>
O’Connor, Karen, Saboto, Larry J., and Yanus, Alixandra B.(2009) Essentials of American Government: Roots and Reform New York City: Pearson Education, Inc.