A marijuana trafficker caught a break Tuesday when a federal appeals court in the U.S. held that he could not be resentenced by a judge who mistakenly imposed a 10-day sentence when he meant a 10-month term.
Charles Bentil, 46, was convicted in 2003 of possession with the intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana and a related firearms charge for which he was eventually sentenced to 10 years followed by five years of supervised release.
Bentil violated the terms of his parole and was sentenced April 28 by U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris in Alexandria to 10 days.
The 10-day term was to be added to any time he might be given in Alexandria Circuit Court where he faced then-pending marijuana trafficking charges. (He was convicted last August and netted three years in state prison.)
But on May 12, Cacheris convened a resentencing hearing at which he imposed a 10-month sentence, saying that the 10-day term was a clear error.
Bentil appealed the 10-month federal sentence challenging the judge’s authority to impose it.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with him Tuesday in a nine-page ruling.
The appeals court noted that a district court judge may modify a sentence once it has been imposed under the rule cited by Cacheris only if it was “a sentence that resulted from arithmetical, technical, or other clear error.”
Among other things, the appeals court judges wrote, “The intent of the district court to impose a 10-month consecutive sentence is not sufficiently clear from the record of the revocation hearing, and as such, the district court’s imposition of a 10-day sentence at the revocation hearing was not the type of obvious error that we have suggested is correctable.”
The opinion noted that while Cacheris stated that Bentil’s original crime was “very serious” and that he had a significant criminal history, the judge “also seemingly took into consideration several mitigating factors, including Bentil’s steady employment, his clean drug screens, his completion of a substance abuse program, his payment of child support for his daughter, and his substance abuse problem, which began at an early age.”
Cacheris also acknowledged that Bentil would likely face a prison sentence in state court. “Consequently, the district court’s intent at the revocation hearing to sentence Bentil to 10 months rather 10 days is ambiguous at best, and thus, any disconnect between the 10-day sentence and the court’s intent at the revocation hearing cannot support resentencing.”
The appeals court also rejected the notion that Cacheris, in imposing a 10-day sentence, “seriously affect(ed) the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”
“To the contrary, we believe that permitting the district court to resentence Bentil after clearly announcing the 10-day sentence and entering the written judgment would be more detrimental to the fairness and integrity of the proceedings than allowing the 10-day sentence to stand,” the judges wrote.
The appeals court vacated the 10-month sentence and ordered Cacheris to reinstate the 10-day sentence initially imposed.
The Virginia Department of Corrections said Bentil is being held at the Nottoway Correctional Center.