A homeless man who admitted to breaking into a parking garage and stealing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration car, ammunition and other items was sentenced to 47 months in prison and three years of supervised release Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky.
Joseph Brian Stevenson, 36, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of ammunition in connection to the drug-fueled nocturnal burglary in which he took a number of items, including a DEA-issued Dodge Charger, but failed to find any weapons.
"You all do a good job of not keeping guns in your cars," Stevenson told agents following his arrest, according to a probable cause affidavit.
According to the affidavit, on July 17, 2021, Stevenson entered a parking garage on Financial Centre Parkway in Little Rock after shooting up methamphetamine. He later said as he looked for unlocked vehicles he entered several that belonged to the Little Rock DEA office. The affidavit said he took numerous items from the vehicles, including ammunition, and put them into a DEA-owned Dodge Charger that he drove off with.
According to the affidavit, Stevenson drove the vehicle until he ran out of gas in Perry County, telling agents he abandoned the vehicle along a dirt road but got lost in the woods and wound up back at the vehicle, whereupon he climbed into the vehicle and fell asleep. The affidavit said he was found asleep in the car by an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officer.
Stevenson told agents he had shot up methamphetamine before entering the parking garage and "got really high," saying that when he had done so in the past he did "stupid things" trying to get an "adrenaline rush" by engaging in illegal activities, according to the affidavit.
Rudofsky explained to Stevenson that under U.S. sentencing statutes, he could face a prison term of up to 10 years, up to 3 years supervised release and a fine up to $250,000. According to Stevenson's pre-sentencing report, prepared by the U.S. Probation Office in Little Rock, U.S. sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence ranging between 41 and 51 months in prison, 1 to 3 years on supervised release and a fine ranging between $7,500 and $75,000.
Stevenson's attorney, Tamera Deaver with the Federal Public Defenders Office in Little Rock, asked Rudofsky to consider a low end guideline sentence, saying Stevenson's numerous run-ins with the law had always been motivated by drug addiction and resulted in relatively short sentences with no meaningful help for his addiction. She said childhood trauma that had never been addressed was a factor in his addiction.
"I think the real tragedy of the state system is that it often incentivizes a pattern of addiction because defendants aren't offered any real help," Deaver said. "They're often given a small sentence and then released with no tools to address the cycle of addiction."
Pushing back on her argument, Rudofsky said although he agreed with Deaver generally regarding deficiencies in the state penal system's rehabilitation programs, he said Stevenson's history indicated he had been given a number of opportunities.
"Unlike a lot of people I see, he's gotten to go to treatment programs and he has wasted all of those opportunities," Rudofsky said. "It's not just one. From the pre-sentence report, it's clearly more than one. So we're not dealing with someone who hasn't had the opportunities. We're dealing with someone who's had the opportunities and keeps walking out on them or failing out of them. What am I supposed to do there?"
Deaver said Stevenson's failures to successfully beat his addiction only underscored the difficulty of treating methamphetamine addicts, saying studies had shown it takes an average of eight cycles of rehab to achieve success. She also said state prison treatment programs are typically short-term programs and said the year-long Residential Drug Abuse Program -- referred to as RDAP -- administered in a number of federal prison facilities provides greater chances of success.
"It does take a year for the brain to reset and for those skills that they're learning to be implemented into everyday life," Deaver said. "I agree with the court that he's been given opportunity, but our position is the opportunity has been insufficient to meet his needs."
She said a sentence of 41 months would be sufficient to allow Stevenson time to complete the RDAP program.
"I don't agree with you but I do understand your argument," Rudofsky said, adding that Stevenson's criminal history indicated a pattern of getting arrested, going to prison, being released only to be arrested, jailed and released again.
"There is a cycle here," he said. "It may be addiction-related, I don't dismiss that, but every time he gets out he goes back to committing crimes right away, within a matter of months."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Eldridge asked Rudofsky to sentence Stevenson to the high end of the guideline range with a 49-month prison term.
"I do think we're dealing with a greater need for deterrence in this case due to the fact that the defendant committed the offense while he was on parole for two prior convictions," Eldridge said. "There seems to be a continuing pattern of re-offending."
Eldridge conceded the difference between 41 and 49 months could be considered marginal in terms of deterrence but said, given Stevenson's history and the nature of the offense, the additional time could provide that much more opportunity for him to get help for his addiction.
"We aren't dealing with a felon in possession, a shooter or someone dealing a massive amount of drugs," she said, but added, "the defendant stayed in the DEA garage for over three hours."
During that time, she said, Stevenson rifled through several vehicles, removing items and placing them in the Dodge Charger, then stole the Charger and drove it until it ran out of gas.
"I don't want to speculate ... but it could have been a much worse event," Eldridge said. "The defendant did admit he was looking for a gun when he was rifling through the garage for three hours."
In settling on the 47-month sentence, Rudofsky cautioned Stevenson that further offenses after he is released will only result in ever more severe sanctions.
"I'm sure you want to clean up your life. There is no question in my mind that you want to do that," the judge said. "If you can't and it leads to more crimes and if I see you back here ... you are not going to be happy to be in front of me."