New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
April 20, 2009

In Nuanced Sentencing Decision, EDNY Judge Finds Career Offender Classification Misplaced

Giving life to the concept of “individualized sentencing,” EDNY Judge Sifton has ruled in United States v. Hodges, 2009 WL 366231 (E.D.N.Y. February 12, 2009), that the career offender classification is “misplaced” in the context of an individual with a history of substance abuse, a strong commitment to family, and a checkered career as a hard worker and occasional (non-violent) participant in drug dealing.  The case is notable not just for its rejection of the career offender enhancement, but also for its ultimate imposition of a sentence below the guideline range that would be applicable even if Hodges were not a career offender.  It is a text-book example of sentencing that is tailored and sensitive to a defendant’s unique history and characteristics, unfettered by pre-Booker limitations on downward departures.  (Disclaimer: Murray Law LLC represented Mr. Hodges.)


Forty-three year-old Mr. Hodges was arrested with his girlfriend and his brother attempting to pick up heroin from a courier at an airport hotel.  He has two prior drug-related convictions: one when he was twenty, for which he served ten years, and one when he was thirty-four, which resulted in probation.  Neither the instant offense nor the prior offenses involved any violence or firearms possession.  But they did make Hodges a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, yielding a guideline range of 151 to 188 months. 

Career Offender Classification

While both the Sentencing Commission and the Second Circuit have recognized the inappropriateness of the career offender classification in some cases, Judge Sifton importantly notes that post-Booker, the Sentencing Commission’s intent is “just one of several salient factors.”  Here, the career offender classification was “misplaced” in light of several mitigating issues, including Mr. Hodges’ history of non-violence, the remoteness of the first prior offense and the minimal time served on the second, his record of hard work, his support of his family, his drug addiction and the inter-relation between his criminal conduct and his drug addiction. 

Since the court found the career offender classification inappropriate in Mr. Hodges’ particular case, it declined in a footnote to decide another issue raised by defense counsel: that the career offender guidelines, like the crack guidelines, “are fundamentally flawed because they are not a product of the empirical and experiential study typical of the Sentencing Commission’s work, and because they exceed their Congressional mandate by expanding the express terms of the enabling statute, 21 U.S.C. § 944(h).”

Leadership Role

Notable too is the court’s rejection of a leadership role in the case, where “there is no evidence that defendant bore significantly more responsibility than his co-conspirators, nor is there evidence that he stood to profit from the crime more than his co-defendants.” 


The decision highlights Mr. Hodges’ admirable family circumstances – his role as father to his two biological children, as well as a host of children in his extended family, and the detailed letters submitted by relatives “attesting to defendant’s commitment as a father and attributing the children’s success in school and college to defendant’s support and encouragement.”

Substance Abuse

Judge Sifton notes that prior caselaw did not permit a departure based on a defendant’s drug addiction.  “However, post-Booker, such prohibitions merely provide guidance to the sentencing court, and defendant's personal 'history and characteristics' must also be considered under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1).”


In deciding to impose a non-Guidelines sentence, the court also relied on Mr. Hodges’ decreased likelihood of recidivism.  “At the age of 43, defendant is substantially older than the average defendant charged with drug trafficking. The Guidelines do not take into account the inverse relationship between age and recidivism.”


Mr. Hodges was sentenced to 96 months on March 5, 2009.

Lawyers: JaneAnne Murray, Murray Law LLC (defendant); AUSA William Campos

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