September 20, 2020
After being charged with the offense of being a felony in possession of a firearm, Seneca Harrison found himself in a federal courtroom facing a difficult decision. The government had offered him a plea deal: In exchange for his guilty plea, both sides would argue for a sentence between 70 and 87 months, the recommended federal sentencing guidelines range. Harrison wasn’t happy with the proposal, but the government wasn’t budging. So Harrison complained to the judge about his lawyer’s performance.
The judge made his own inquiry into the plea offer and then said, on the record, that the offer on the table was “probably worse than if he got convicted, right?” Shortly thereafter, the judge excused the prosecutor from the courtroom, but then turned to Harrison and said that the federal (as opposed to the state) judicial system “sucks” and is “really harsh.”
He wasn’t done. He went on to tell Harrison that, if he were to plead guilty, he would be sentenced by another, less lenient judge. But if he decided to go to trial, the other judge would be out of the picture.
Taking the judge at his word, Harrison went to trial.
It didn’t quite work out the way Harrison had envisioned.
Harrison was convicted after a brief bench trial, and was sentenced to 92 months in prison. While that was at the bottom of the Guidelines range, it was still higher than the government had been prepared to recommend had he pled guilty. You see, by following the judge’s advice and going to trial, Harrison missed out on sentencing credit for accepting responsibility for his criminal conduct.
The good news is that, earlier this month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence and remanded his case for resentencing before a different judge.
All of which leaves one to wonder: “What was that judge thinking??”