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July 22, 2013

"A few shotgun shells landed a man 15 years in federal prison"

Young photoThe title of this post is the headline of this remarkable federal sentencing story out of Tennessee.  Here are the details:

In some cases, old mistakes echo across the years. New sins carry the crushing weight of an old life.   In some cases, a criminal past is not forgiven.

Months before he left state prison on burglary convictions in 1996, Edward Lamar Young told his grandmother he was going to be a different man. He would get work, get married and have a family.  The 26-year-old wouldn't steal to get what he needed or wanted.  And soon after he left prison bars behind he fulfilled that promise. He met and married a woman named Stacy.  The couple had four children.

But in late September 2011, he went off track.  He stole tools, tires and weightlifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse.  He even had his son with him on one trip, which added a separate charge. A video camera recorded the burglaries. Less than a week later police knocked on the door of his Hixson home. He let them in. They found the tools, but they found something else too, small items inside a drawer that would escalate his punishment far beyond burglary.

Young admits he's done bad things, but he says he's never carried a weapon, never shed another person's blood.  But because of what police found at his house that day -- seven shotgun shells -- his 15-year prison sentence now places him alongside lifelong killers, movie-style gangsters and drug kingpins.  There are homicide convictions that carry sentences half as long in Tennessee state courts. 

Laws designed for the worst of the worst, but written broadly enough to ensnare the less dangerous, subject Young to what even his sentencing judge called a Dickensian penalty. There is a bill in Congress that would give federal judges discretion, untie their hands to ensure punishments fit the crimes.  But that bill is far from passage and would have to apply retroactively, a rarity in many criminal laws, to help Young.

Weeks, maybe months before police came to his home Young had helped a neighbor, a woman named Neva Mumpower.  Her husband had died and she wanted to sell some of their older furniture.  She told Young if he hauled it to the flea market she'd split whatever it sold for.  He did, but kept a chest of drawers at his place. 

A short time later he went through it and found the shells.  Young didn't think much of them.  He put them away so the kids wouldn't come upon them and went on with his day. He'd get them back to Mumpower later or just throw them away.  Except he didn't.

Young confessed to the burglaries and faced state prison time, probably a few years with the likelihood of parole and probation.  Not a proud moment but recoverable.  The 43-year-old man soon discovered that the shotgun shells carried a heavier burden -- a 15-year mandatory federal prison sentence with no possibility of parole.

Standing inside the wood-paneled courtroom in the downtown federal building May 9, Stacy Young knew what was coming but held out a strand of hope.  Mercy, maybe.  She listened as the lawyers droned on about legal definitions, criminal histories and what was right, what was fair. Then the judge told her husband he could speak.

"I just ... I mean, it wasn't ... it wasn't my intent," Ed Young told the judge. "I did find them in the box, and I put them up until I could give them back to her, so my kids wouldn't find them.  I don't think I deserve to grow up without my family, and I don't think my family deserves to grow up without me."  The Youngs' oldest son, who is 16, ran out of the courtroom in tears.  The crying family huddled in the hallway after the sentencing. The youngest son is 6 years old.  He'll be 20 when Ed Young leaves federal prison, a 62-year-old man....

Convicted felons are told they no longer can possess firearms.  Having a gun, even if the felony was a white-collar crime such as wire fraud, means prison time.  What some may know but Young swears he did not, is that possessing ammunition, say seven shotgun shells, is just as bad.

There's nothing in Young's criminal record to show he's ever been accused of carrying a weapon, even in the 20-year-old burglary convictions.  But those burglaries are counted as "violent crimes."  And language is important.  Young's criminal past classified him as an armed career criminal under federal law.  That classification means he faces severe penalties for the rest of his life if he breaks any of the rules.

Young's attorney is flabbergasted. "I don't think there's anything like it at all," said Chris Varner.  "Everything went wrong here." As far as his legal research shows, it is only under the Armed Career Criminal Act that Young's distant convictions can count against him, Varner said.  Other federal sentencing guidelines would not have considered the past convictions because they were so long ago.

Once the charges were filed and the federal grand jury indicted Young, nothing could stop the machine that is federal law.  Prosecutor Chris Poole worked the case.  He declined to comment under U.S. Attorney's Office policy not to speak about active cases.  Young's case is on appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.  But in court documents, Poole explains to U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier that by definition Young's crimes fit the career criminal law and the minimum sentence is 15 years.  The maximum was life.

During the May 9 hearing Collier hinted at his thoughts on the Draconian sentence. "Mr. Young, I don't know if you read a lot, but there was an author who has written a lot of books, and has some overtones here. His name is Charles Dickens," Collier said.

The judge went on to explain the situation and his own lack of power. "This is a case where the Congress of the United States has instructed federal district judges like myself to impose a sentence of at least 180 months, that is, 15 years," Collier said. "... This sentence is not so much a punishment for the present crime as it is a punishment for your history of crimes."

The week after the federal sentencing, prosecutors in state court dismissed the burglary and related charges....

Stacy Young is now a single working mother with a house full of children.  She'll haul them down to Atlanta every other week.  Two of the children will visit the first day, then they'll stay overnight for the other two to see their father the second day.  Ed Young writes letters nearly every day and says he'll keep writing. 

Varner, his attorney, sees the sentence far outweighing the crime and worries what it says about justice. "This is not who we are, we do not do this as a nation," he said.  Stacy, devastated by the outcome, living with the consequences, sees it much more personally. "I don't think he should have 15 years for seven shotgun shells," she said. "I think it's crazy."

July 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM | Permalink

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"Weeks, maybe months before police came to his home Young had helped a neighbor, a woman named Neva Mumpower. Her husband had died and she wanted to sell some of their older furniture. She told Young if he hauled it to the flea market she'd split whatever it sold for. He did, but kept a chest of drawers at his place....A short time later he went through it and found the shells. Young didn't think much of them. He put them away so the kids wouldn't come upon them and went on with his day. He'd get them back to Mumpower later or just throw them away. Except he didn't."

He keeps someone else's property he was supposed to sell, takes it to his home, rifles through it, by sheer chance finds ammunition cartridges, "put[s] them away" even though he has no use for them, intends to return them to the owner, "except he didn't"

I can't be the only one to whom this story sounds more than a little fishy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 22, 2013 1:21:28 PM

I agree with Bill. There has to be more to this story. I have practiced in the Federal Courts for years. And as irritated as I get with the US Attorney's office from time to time, I cannot imagine the Feds prosecuting this case - unless there is more to the story.

Posted by: Scott | Jul 22, 2013 1:59:54 PM

A prosecutor abusing his discretion to maximize a sentence because he has the power to do so? I'm shocked, shocked!

Posted by: observer | Jul 22, 2013 2:33:14 PM

observer --

A defendant telling a fairy tale to maximize his chances of beating the rap? I'm shocked, shocked!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 22, 2013 2:56:29 PM

Well bill we have no real clue about the chest becasue the reporter is a failure. For all we know it was the only thing that didn't sell and she told him she didn't want it back and to keep it!

but 15 years for a few old shotgun shells? Sorry if id' been him when the judge asked if i wanted to say anything especialy after her comment about dickens! my statment would have been

"Well your honor based on your statement it looks to me like you and those who support you are bigger criminals than i am. But that's ok history has shown over and over and over. You WILL get yours in the end!"

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 22, 2013 4:03:32 PM

After more than 30 years as an AFPD i have seen WORSE injustices. How about 15 years for using bullets to make keychains? 15 years for a 70 year old man who's wife kept several weapons of her late first husband in the house who's most recent felony was over 40 years ago(a 1 year sentence for walking out of a county jail and across the street to a bar-an escape) and equally innocuous 2 additional crimes of violence? I wonder why the defense lawyer sounded so shocked-didn't he know it was coming? Some prosecutors exercise discretion well-some do not.Some Judges have courage to try and influence that exercise-many do not. I am constantly suprised how many clients refuse to go to trial even after being told that was the penalty and there was nothing to lose.

Posted by: scott tilsen | Jul 22, 2013 5:27:29 PM

When I was an inmate at FCI - Manchester, Kentucky in 2004, I saw an even worse case. Another inmate had a 188 month sentence as an armed career criminal, which arose out of "constructive possession" of a single shotgun shell that was found in his father's pickup truck, which was parked in the father's driveway, while the inmate and his wife ate Sunday dinner (after church) with his parents and siblings. If the general public really grasped what some of these Federal agents and prosecutors do, they would rise up in arms and scream. In an Atlanta case, a former felon was riding as a passenger in his friend's car, when they got pulled over on a traffic stop. The driver advised the officer that he had a gun in his glove compartment, for which he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The passenger was unaware that there was any weapon in the car, but he was convicted of "constructive possession" of a firearm by a felon!

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 22, 2013 5:53:02 PM

Rod is right when he says the reporter doesn't provide any of us with enough information to know whether Young got the chest lawfully. My immediate impression, which certainly may be wrong, is that Mumpower offered to split the proceeds with Young if he helped her by hauling her old furniture to the flea market, he told her he would rather have the chest in lieu of the cash, and she agreed. That kind of barter arrangement is common.

Posted by: arfarf | Jul 22, 2013 6:13:18 PM

Bill Otis,

In your world is any conviction ever unfair? Is any sentence ever unjust? Is any innocent person every convicted? Does any jury every make a mistake? Does any law enforcement agent ever lie? Does any prosecutor every abuse his discretion? Does any prosecutor ever hide the ball? Does any prosecutor suppress favorable evidence?

Just curious.

Posted by: observer | Jul 22, 2013 6:46:27 PM

The small income tax rap was for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, ordered by Al Capone. Is there anyone who disagrees with the lengthy prison sentence he received for failure to file paper work, and pay a few phony tax charges? Because of the Inquisitorial nature of the lawyer profession, the gotcha is all they got.

We know nothing about how busy this guy was. There are no specialists in crime. So the burglar is an arsonist. The shop lifter is a serial killer. That is why 123D is really a stand in for character, defined as the predisposition to act in a certain way in the future.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 22, 2013 6:47:19 PM

observer --

The answer to all your questions is yes, of course.

But the stunt you and others are trying to pull is to pretend that these are all-the-time, standard occurrences. They aren't and you know it. Will you admit it?

This is what's routine, as I know from years in the USAO: The defendant is factually guilty; the agents by-and-large are honest; the defense lawyer is competent and ethical, as is the prosecutor; the defendant pleads, not because there's some draconian sentence (do you people ever concede any other kind?), but because he's toast at trial and knows it.

Here's some other things we both know (partial list only): Most crimes are committed to get money quick and easy; virtually no defendant is Jean Valjean stealing to subsist; clients lie all the time, even more to their lawyers than to the cops or the prosecutor; and they get acceptance of responsibility at sentencing whether or not they actually feel they've done anything wrong.

Lastly, as to these drug crimes: It's hard to imagine anything easier to avoid. It's not the cops who "make" you put the pipe to your mouth or the needle in your arm, nor is it the cops making $$$ by selling this garbage to a teenager and/or an addict, not giving a good God damn what becomes of him. Always and ever blaming the Big Bad System for the client's own greed/lack of empathy/selfishness is pure baloney, and that's being charitable.

Do you get any of this? Just curious.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 22, 2013 7:21:41 PM

If the prosecutor's memo in aid of sentencing is to be believed, there's not a lot more to this story than what the reporter wrote. The guy had old burglary convictions and lapsed and committed new burglaries. When police came for a search, he consented and admitted the shells were his but that he didn't have a gun. The AUSA says his past convictions plus the shells meet the definition of an armed career criminal, period. After sentencing, the state dropped its burglary charges. In what universe - whether you are a liberal, conservative, libertarian, or vegetarian - did this case need to be a federal case? If DOJ wants to use its resources this way, it should stop whining about its dwindling budget.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jul 22, 2013 10:54:59 PM

"Always and ever blaming the Big Bad System for the client's own greed/lack of empathy/selfishness is pure baloney, and that's being charitable."

Let's see, most lawmakers are greedy, lack empathy and are selfish. These in themselves are not crimes, but the laws these people pass are criminal. Just look at SO laws for punishing passive behavior - to be left alone.

I am not saying that these are everyday occurences. That they are sometime occurences is a FACT and your defense of this system as the best ever just blows up. I strongly believe that the 2nd Amendment applies to convicted non-firearm committing felons, no matter what you and your black pajama wearers say.

You are an apologist, nothing more, nothing less. So were many in history who were "just doing their duty as ordered."

Posted by: albeed | Jul 22, 2013 11:03:40 PM

albeed --

"Let's see, most lawmakers are greedy, lack empathy and are selfish."

Did you just now borrow SC's persona?

"These in themselves are not crimes, but the laws these people pass are criminal."

Some of them are, you bet. Would you prefer to have no criminal law?

"Just look at SO laws for punishing passive behavior - to be left alone."

The "passive behavior" creates a market, and the market encourages the profitable production of this stuff. Do you approve?

"I am not saying that these are everyday occurences."

Good. This puts you ahead of onlooker, who hasn't had much to say after I asked him about that.

"That they are sometime occurences is a FACT..."

Yup, just as I said.

"...and your defense of this system as the best ever just blows up."

You're welcome to name a better one. What would that be?

"I strongly believe that the 2nd Amendment applies to convicted non-firearm committing felons, no matter what you and your black pajama wearers say."

Sorry, I don't own pajamas. If I did, they wouldn't be black. As to the Second Amendment, it's the liberals on this board, not me, who opposed Second Amendment rights for ANYONE and wanted the anti-gun side to win Heller.

"You are an apologist, nothing more, nothing less."

Actually, I'm a husband, teacher, mentor, homeowner (right now at the one I own in Hawaii -- jealous?), unprepared family patriarch, liver cancer survivor (not many of those), swimmer, blogger, law school debater, op-ed writer, sometime Congressional witness, etc.

"So were many in history who were 'just doing their duty as ordered.'"

One of the joys of having semi-retired several years ago is that I don't take orders from anyone but my wife, who always has the upper hand and is smarter than I am anyway.

Cheers.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 23, 2013 1:24:09 AM

Bill Otis on 23 July 2013 Tue 01:24:09 EDT
One of the joys of having semi-retired several years ago is that I don't take orders from anyone but my wife, who always has the upper hand and is smarter than I am anyway.

“Smartness” is irrelevant ; IMLO* , it is gender: ♀ trumps ♂ .
I am smarter than my wife , yet after over 24½ million minutes of matrimony , she has managed to carefully have taught me there are three answers to marital bliss:
1. Yes, Dear ;
2. No, Dear ;
3. Dear , you are correct ☺

* No, not In My Lay Opinion , but In My Learned Opinion .

Docile Jim Brady aka Kind Soul®
Columbus , OH 43209
docile.007@ƒaceßook.com

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Jul 23, 2013 9:07:52 AM

On a serious note , how could the judge rule on claim that the career criminal statute was unconstitutional as applied to the defendant in THIS factual situation.

At a hearing on the motion , the precise details of the transactions would be introduced with the widow as one of the witnesses .

Over 40 years ago an attorney loaned me Steal This Book and told me NOT to steal it.

It is around somewhere , if my wife has not trashed it during one of her manic Martha Stewart modes . I should track it down and return it while we both are alive ; he nearly 73 , I nearly 76 , years YOUNG

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Jul 23, 2013 9:19:55 AM

My experience dealing with US attorneys as a state prosecutor was that if this is all that there was, you could not get an US attorney's office to touch this case with a ten foot pole.

Now, if there was a reason to believe that Mr. Young was involved with bigger fish that the federal government was targeting, they might have filed something to get Mr. Young to rat out his fence, etc., to allow them to move up the chain, but neither side would be willing to disclose that fact to a reporter. If that was the case, Mr. Young apparently refused to cooperate.

Posted by: tmm | Jul 23, 2013 10:02:39 AM

jim i don't know about you but this one just takes the damn cake!

"When I was an inmate at FCI - Manchester, Kentucky in 2004, I saw an even worse case. Another inmate had a 188 month sentence as an armed career criminal, which arose out of "constructive possession" of a single shotgun shell that was found in his father's pickup truck, which was parked in the father's driveway, while the inmate and his wife ate Sunday dinner (after church) with his parents and siblings."

I would think anyone involved in this so-called conviciton from the cops who found it and arrested HIM all the way to the judge and jury need to be taken out and SHOT!

I would certainly consider it illegal inprisonment and would be trying to KILL anyone in law enforcment anytime they were stupid enough to come wihin arms reach.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 23, 2013 8:33:36 PM

I have practiced in federal courts for over 30 years. Absurd results like this occur more often than one would think.

There are wide disparities between US Attorney offices in different districts regarding what cases to prosecute and how to determine sentences by choice of statutory charges and guidelines applications.

I had a case recently in WD Mich where an AUSA argued that the sentencing court should ignore sentences imposed on other defendants in different districts for similar and related conduct should be ignored, because WD Mich punishes more harshly and inter-district disparity is good.

Posted by: John Minock | Jul 24, 2013 8:01:31 AM

To answer some of the questions above, the facts about how the shells were possessed were addressed in two declarations attached to Mr. Young's sentencing memorandum. Those declarations were unchallenged, and the district court deemed the content of the declarations to be accurate for sentencing purposes. Also, Mr. Young's guideline range would have been 10-16 months in the absence of the ACCA.

Posted by: Chris Varner | Jul 24, 2013 10:53:55 AM

Boy, I can see both sides to this. But it does seem harsh regardless. It is too bad the system does not allow for some common sense from the prosecutor or the judge. Having said that the parties involved know a lot more than we do.

Posted by: Steven J Fromm | Jul 24, 2013 3:05:52 PM

no steven the problem is criminal stupidity like this!

"I saw an even worse case. Another inmate had a 188 month sentence as an armed career criminal, which arose out of "constructive possession" of a single shotgun shell that was found in his father's pickup truck, which was parked in the father's driveway, while the inmate and his wife ate Sunday dinner (after church) with his parents and siblings."

The truck was his fathers on his father's property so just why would anyone but a govt fucktard think anyone but dad would have "constructive posession"

but there is a way to fix that. If i'd been his father i'd have walked out with MY shotgun with more of those shells in it and put the barrel up by govt fucktard number one's head and tell him to hold still just a second so i could test out his ideal. I'm going to pull the trigger and put one of the shels into your empty head and when your brothers in blue show up i'll see if they figure since YOU have the shell do you now have "constructive posession" of it. Or you get get your retarded ass off my property NOW!"

If we thinned out these govt fuctards we would have fewer of these problems!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 24, 2013 9:39:27 PM

This is a typical Federal BS and is why ther feds need to just plain go away...

So what he had some shells in a drawer...

But I forgot its all to satisfy 3553 isn't it..

This never should of been enacted... One can always look down on someone when they get caught up in the federal web and say what they want. But this is pretty much a typical daily case for Federal.

Best thing that could happen to America is to fire and immediately layoff 75% of the Federal DOJ staff...Then federal would go after what truly are federal crimes and not have the funds to chase the local boys that should and could be handled locally..Enough said..

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Jul 25, 2013 9:53:56 AM

That's true midwest guy but doomed to failure. the rot has went too far. today it's pretty much going to take an american public will to use those 4 guns for ever man, woman and child in america and the willingness to when you see criminal stupdiity like this take one and be willing to use it. Give the govt fucktard the option to back off and if they refuse. REMOVE them!

With the follow up that after the mandatory arrest and trial of the individual the jury looks at the Judge and just says. Thanks judge but there is no need to go anywhere. We vote NOT GUILTY!

sure a few govt fucktards will have to die. But even they will eventualy realize they can't convict anyone so it's time to backup and rethink our position!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 25, 2013 4:48:41 PM

From 1982 through 2004, John Perotti sat in Ohio's prisons serving a 22-60 year sentence, most of which he picked up while in the joint. So he steps out in 2004 for a couple months until one night when the po-lice pull up on him standing outside of a vehicle in Cleveland's suburbs which was wrecked. I believe an SKS was found in the trunk perhaps, and Mr. Perotti explained that off successfully in court since he was prohibited from possessing a firearm as a felon on parole (only violent offenders and certain drug offenders are barred from possessing heaters unless they're successful with a motion to remove that 'disability'). Anyway, he was arrested for being the operator of the now wrecked vehicle and transported to a hospital perhaps due to his injuries (I didn't really care too much to learn this fool's fate), possession of the SKS, and some other offenses. The parole board was patiently waiting in the background to see how Mr. Perotti would handle himself in criminal court before they could consider violating his parole. Mr. Perotti was successful beating all the state cases. However, while being transported to the hospital, a shell fell off the gurney which he was on, and police found shells on the floor board. He wasn't charged in state court for possessing shells, just the heater and some other traffic related offenses.
Since he beat everything, either in conjunction with a request from authorities here in Ohio or on it's own initiative, the feds decided to step in and hit him with the career criminal charge and I think he's serving until 2019 in a federal prison somewhere in Pennsylvania. Unlike the guy in the article, this guy is and was destined to doom.
Here in the wonderful county of Hamilton, Ohio, I violated probation stemming from missing a phone call to my p.o. judge robert gorman sentenced me, a first time felony offender, to 6-25 years ran wild with 1-1/2 years. He says, "I'm sending you to prison because your history (juvenile, because I was only 19 when this happen and hadn't been on probation/violated probation as an adult yet)demonstrates that every time you are placed on probation you violate it soon thereafter. I appeal the conviction. Guess who became the presiding judge in the first district? Yep, Robert Gorman. Guess who dismissed my appeal? Right again. So, 12 years later I get out of prison.
The moral of this story is that some people (we call them 'circumstantial criminals') truly do not belong in prison. It serves no purpose from any, rational viewpoint. In fact, it produces even worse people. I should know. I'm probably one of those people and I live among you.

Posted by: ohio prison project | Aug 1, 2013 6:05:57 PM

Mr. Fromm: The system does allow for common sense from the prosecutor, although they don't always take advantage of that opening. Since we don't know all the facts, it is possible the prosecutor did have a good reason to (a) make this a federal case, and (b) use the ACCA to trigger a 15 year minimum. But it is hard for me to see what it would be.

Posted by: anon | Mar 13, 2014 5:54:03 PM

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