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United States v. Duckett

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 24, 2019

United States of America, Appellee
v.
James Duckett, Appellant

          Argued April 4, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:15-cr-00120-1)

          Rosanna M. Taormina, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender. Tony Axam Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, entered an appearance.

          Elizabeth Gabriel, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With her on the briefs were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and Stephen J. Gripkey, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Griffith and Srinivasan, Circuit Judges, and Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          RANDOLPH, SENIOR CIRCUIT JUDGE

         James T. Duckett appeals his latest sentence of 24 months' imprisonment. He claims that his sentence should have been lower and that the district court did not sufficiently explain why it was imposing a term of imprisonment greater than the Sentencing Guidelines range.

         We have framed the issue in terms of Duckett's "latest sentence" because Duckett, now in his mid-50s, has been in nearly continuous custody for one offense or another since the 1980s. In his teens he began committing petty crimes and the older he grew the more violent he became. He moved on to distributing illegal drugs, stabbing, robbing, attempting murder, and murdering.

         In the District of Columbia area during a nine-year period beginning when Duckett was 18 years old, he served time for simple assault, attempted petty larceny, attempted robbery, armed robbery, theft, and attempted distribution of cocaine. After his release on parole, he violated the terms of his release. Imprisoned again, this time in Virginia, Duckett stabbed another inmate repeatedly - in the chest and in the back - with a "shank," and continued his onslaught even as a prison guard intervened to protect the victim. A jury found Duckett guilty of assault with intent to murder, assault causing serious bodily harm, and possession of contraband (the shank). The court sentenced him to 20 years' imprisonment.

         In 1994, while serving this sentence at the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, federal penitentiary, Duckett stabbed another inmate to death. The Bureau of Prisons transferred him to "ADX" (Administrative Maximum) Florence, Colorado, by some accounts the nation's most secure federal prison.

         At ADX Florence, Duckett assisted another inmate - Dominic Stewart - in attacking prisoner Gregory Joiner and beating him to death. A federal grand jury in Colorado indicted Duckett and Stewart for second degree murder and assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Stewart faced an additional first degree murder charge for the crime.

         Duckett negotiated a cooperation agreement with the prosecution, pursuant to which he pled guilty to the assault charge and testified against Stewart. In return, the prosecutor filed a motion for a downward sentencing departure. The federal district court in Colorado concurred and sentenced Duckett to 42 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. Duckett started serving this period of supervised release in October 2014.

         This brings us to the events leading to Duckett's latest sentence of 24 months' imprisonment. Duckett moved back to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2014. Chief Judge Howell of the federal district court here assumed jurisdiction over his compliance with the terms of his supervised release from the sentence imposed in Colorado.

         In December 2014, shortly after his arrival here, he was arrested for assault, aggressive panhandling, and carrying a prohibited weapon. In April 2015, while detained, he assaulted a prison guard. In May 2015, the D.C. Superior ...


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