Jerome Bradley v. District of Columbia, No. 11-CT-955 (decided January 22, 2015).
Players: Associate Judges Easterly & McLeese, Senior Judge Ferren. Opinion by Associate Judge Easterly. George Weiss for Mr. Bradley. PDS as amicus curiae. Trial Judges: Florence Y. Pan & Frederick J. Sullivan, Magistrate Judge.
Facts: Mr. Bradley was found guilty of charges arising from a reckless driving incident in which a person’s leg was injured. At sentencing, Magistrate Judge Sullivan imposed the maximum sentence allowed, apparently after reviewing Mr. Bradley’s records from other cases in CourtView. Judge Sullivan did not inform the parties what materials he was looking at or make them part of the record. He remarked that he believed Mr. Bradley had spent his entire life “selling drugs, being around guns, [and] fleeing the police”; that he was going to “sell . . . drugs” and “shoot somebody” when he got out; that he had gotten a break in a previous case when he got probation instead of a 40-year sentence; and that he had almost killed someone while he was on probation. It turned out that Mr. Bradley had only four convictions from two incidents, none of them were for selling drugs or gun violence, he had never received a sentence of probation (or faced a possible 40-year sentence), and had never come close to killing anyone. Mr. Bradley sought review of the sentence from a Superior Court judge. Judge Pan acknowledged Judge Sullivan’s “overstated and exaggerated” comments, which “if read literally, were not based on any evidence in the record,” but nevertheless found no reversible error in the sentence.
Issue: Did the sentencing violate due process because the magistrate judge based the sentence on an assessment of the defendant’s criminal history that was unsupported by the record and without informing the parties what materials he was reviewing?
Held: Yes. All of Judge Sullivan’s statements described above were unfounded, in part because he considered arrests and charges that did not result in a criminal conviction. The resulting sentence violated due process for two reasons. First, the unfounded statements were material to the Judge Sullivan’s sentencing decision. Second, Judge Sullivan failed to inform the parties of his reliance on Mr. Bradley’s records in CourtView and Mr. Bradley thus was left unable to correct the judge’s mistaken understanding of his criminal history. Judge Sullivan should have identified the CourtView documents he was relying on and made them part of the record.
- Although the court does not reach the issue, it notes that the parties agree that a sentencing judge considering a defendant’s prior criminal conduct must find that the prior conduct has been proven by, at a minimum, a preponderance of the evidence.
- The court directed that resentencing should take place before a different judge. DG