After a Carter County District Court Judge sentenced two defendants in state court for their armed robbery of a Grandy’s Restaurant, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma thought he would try his hand in federal court. The state court judge ordered a sentence of 75 days in the county jail, followed by 5 years probation and a deferred sentence, to Larry Lamar White and Andron Dyshaun Thompson for their crimes of a Grandy’s Restaurant in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
The United States Attorney didn’t think that was enough time, so he presented the case to a grand jury, and the grand jury handed up an indictment for prosecution in federal court.
Isn’t this Double Jeopardy? Not according to prior decisions made by federal appeals courts under the “Petite Policy”, where federal prosecutors believe justice has not been served in the state courts. By United States Department of Justice policy, the local prosecutor’s request must be approved by the Department of Justice in Washington before proceeding to indictment.
Now, with this new federal prosecution, defendants White and Thompson are facing not less than 10 years under the federal Sentencing Guidelines – which is a big difference from the 75 day sentence handed down in state court.
This same federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Oklahoma has a history of going after state court defendants. He previously took the case of Kenneth Barrett, after the state court jury in Sallisaw gave Barrett a twenty-year sentence for killing a state trooper as he was delivering a search warrant on Barrett’s land for drug trafficking. Barrett was then found guilty in federal court in 2005 and given the death penalty.
What’s more, this same federal prosecutor is looking at another conviction from the same Carter County District Judge. The judge gave a 60-day jail sentence to the robber of a convenience store. The robber used a BB gun for the robbery, but he made things worse after he was arrested. He kicked out the window of the police car and tried to escape. This made the police mad, and they were already mad from the sentences given to Thompson and White, so they were demanding a stiffer sentence for the convenience store robber.
Federal prosecution of a state court defendant is extremely rare, so that is not a common issue to watch for. The state court judge always has sole discretion to decide the sentences in a plea without any agreement, like the sentences in Carter County of Thompson and White, because the defendants’ lawyers directed their clients to enter “blind pleas.”
A “blind plea” means there is no agreement with the District Attorney, and the decision is completely within the hands of the judge. If the decision seems too light to the District Attorney, there isn’t much he can do about it. Similarly, if the sentence the judge gives seems too heavy to the defendant or this lawyer, there isn’t much the defendant can do about it.
That is why it is so important for defendant’s lawyer to know the judge well, to know how the judge rules in certain circumstances and what will influence his decisions. It is still a guess in many ways, but it is an educated guess, and sometimes it is the only way that is practically open to a defendant in those particular circumstances to lessen a potentially severe sentence.