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United States v. Graham

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 8, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Hiram Omar Graham, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued January 23, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 17-CR-220 - J.P. Stadtmueller, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Kanne and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Hiram Graham pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery and using a firearm during a crime of violence. At sentencing, he argued that his financial hardships, his extraordinary family situation, and his lack of a criminal record should mitigate his sentence. He now contends that the district court failed to address these arguments or adequately explain his 144-month, below-guidelines prison sentence. But the district court did not commit these procedural errors, so we affirm the judgment.

         I. Background

         Over a five-month period, Graham robbed six Aldi grocery stores at gunpoint. He had worked at an Aldi in Milwaukee for six years, before he was fired four months before the first robbery for stealing food. Graham targeted Aldi stores because of his insider knowledge, including his knowledge that Aldi trains employees to acquiesce to robbers. Graham would enter a store a few minutes before closing, hide until it closed, then approach employees with his gun drawn and instruct them to empty the safe. Two weeks after the sixth robbery, Graham was arrested, and he later confessed.

         Graham pleaded guilty to six counts of Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), and one count of using a firearm during of a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii). In calculating the applicable imprisonment range under the Sentencing Guidelines, the district court found that Graham had a total offense level of 28 and criminal history category of I, giving him a range of 78 to 97 months for each robbery, followed by a mandatory consecutive sentence of 84 months for the § 924(c) conviction. See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(D)(ii) (mandating that sentence for 924(c) conviction be imposed consecutively). Consistent with Graham's plea agreement, the government recommended a within-guidelines sentence.

         At sentencing, Graham argued that he should receive the "least restrictive sentence available"-just 84 months' imprisonment for the § 924(c) conviction and no additional time- because his case was unique. For thirty years, Graham had been a productive member of society, graduating high school and working two full-time jobs to support his girlfriend and six children. Counsel recounted that Graham had lived a crime-free life until the financial pressures of six children, one with serious medical issues, overwhelmed him and drove him to use drugs, steal food, and, finally, rob his former employer under the influence of cocaine. Counsel stressed that Graham had learned his lesson, was statistically "unlikely to reoffend," and that, because of his family support, there was every reason to believe that he would be rehabilitated.

         Before hearing the parties' arguments, the district court stated that it had reviewed Graham's twelve-page sentencing memorandum and other submissions. And after hearing all the arguments, the court commented that it understood that Graham, "like so many," had been "confronted with financial challenges," which "may serve as an explanation for" his conduct. But, the court continued, this did "not provide a meaningful excuse for anyone to take matters into their own hands and go about taking from others." Graham's criminal conduct, the court emphasized, had not been "spur of the moment," but "well-planned, executed such that it took law enforcement" additional time to discover who the perpetrator was, and that there was "too much in the way of criminal conduct" to justify the sentence Graham requested.

         Next, the district court discussed at some length the exorbitant costs of incarceration and the ballooning prison population. It explained that "this branch of the court and others are beginning to factor into their analysis of the cost benefit to society" this issue in deciding "how much is enough."

         The court then determined that, considering "uniformity, proportionality, certainty, and cost," concurrent sentences of 60 months' imprisonment for each robbery was appropriate, followed by the mandatory consecutive sentence of 84 months for the firearm conviction, for a total sentence of 144 months. The sentence was justified, the court concluded, by the "totality of the facts and circumstances" underlying the six robberies.

         II. Analysis

         We review claimed procedural errors de novo. See United States v. Lockwood, 840 F.3d 896, 900 (7th Cir. 2016). Graham first argues that the district court procedurally erred when it failed to address his mitigation arguments and adequately explain its consideration of them. At sentencing, a court must address the parties' principal arguments, and "where a defendant's principal argument is not so weak as not to merit discussion, the court must explain its reason ...


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