U.S. v. Lente Resentencing: Weight Given to Prior Tribal Court Convictions as Issue

Previously, a badly divided panel of the Tenth Circuit vacated a sentence of 216 months for an Indian woman convicted of vehicular homicide. On remand, the trial judge lessened the sentence to 192 months — DCT Resentencing Order in Lente.

Prior tribal court convictions are an issue in this case:

First, I find that the Guidelines do not adequately represent Lente’s prior criminal history. As noted above, Lente did not receive any criminal history points for her five prior tribal convictions. In four of the five offenses, tribal records show that Lente was intoxicated. In all four, Lente was charged with disorderly conduct, among other things, for starting fights and/or causing property damage. In the last offense, a conviction for assault and battery in 2005, details of the offense were unavailable. Tribal records also show that Lente was arrested three additional times and charged with assault, assault and battery and/or disorderly conduct. None of those three arrests led to convictions. I find that Lente’s criminal history shows a repeated willingness to abuse alcohol and engage in violent and/or reckless behavior. While tribal convictions are not usually taken into account under the Guidelines (although, as noted above, the Guidelines themselves permit tribal convictions to be used as the basis for an upward departure), Lente’s prior convictions should be taken into account in this case. Five prior convictions (and three prior arrests which did not result in convictions) do not constitute an insignificant criminal record. Furthermore, at least four of her five prior convictions involved the use of alcohol. All of her prior convictions involve violent and/or reckless behavior. These prior convictions show a pattern of alcohol abuse and reckless behavior—a pattern which led to Lente’s decision to drink 13 to 19 beers on December 2, 2005 and drive on State Road 47. I recognize that three of Lente’s prior convictions occurred when she was a juvenile and, accordingly, I do not rely on these convictions to enhance Lente’s sentence. However, I find it entirely appropriate to enhance Lente’s sentence on the basis of her two adult tribal convictions—one for assault and battery and one for disorderly conduct. As discussed above, had Lente’s two adult tribal convictions occurred in state or municipal court, Lente would have been placed in criminal history category III and would be facing a Guidelines range of 57 to 71 months—over a year more than the Guidelines range she faces today. Given the patterns in Lente’s offense history, I find it highly unjust that she avoids the consequence of these prior convictions merely because they occurred in tribal court.

One appellate judge before had rejected such an analysis, as the trial judge notes:

Judge Holmes agreed that Lente’s previous convictions and arrests could support some upward variance. He noted, however, that “all of her convictions were misdemeanors [and] of these, almost half were juveniles adjudications, and the majority were family disputes.” Id. at 710. He noted further that none of the previous offenses involved drinking and driving, nor were they similar in kind or seriousness to the instant conviction. Accordingly, these prior offenses could not support such a major variance.

On appeal, one hopes for more certainty from the Tenth Circuit this time around.

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