More background on Keith Graves’ sentencing.

Photo courtesy of
The view from Mr. Graves’ residence for the next 33 years or so. Photo courtesy of

As was mentioned earlier, on February 17th many women who had been trafficked in prostitution received justice when Keith Graves was sentenced to 33 years 9 months in federal prison.

Amy Dalrymple interviews several of the victims and explains After the trauma of sex trafficking, women struggle to cope. The emotional aftermath is severe. The trial was devastating for the witnesses, because Mr. Graves was able to cross-examine them in person since he was representing himself. Check out the article for a better description of the trauma involved.

Most of the sentencing documents are now available in the federal PACER system. Since those are public documents, I will post them as part of this discussion.  Feel free to read the following documents if you are really interested. Or really, really bored.

I will summarize and comment on the documents in case you don’t want to read them.


The sentence is 405 months for each of five counts of trafficking, with sentences to run concurrently and credit for time served. That is 33 years and nine months. Follow along with me for a few minutes and I’ll explain where the 405 number came from.

Sentence is 240 months, or 20 years, for the one count of drug distribution. Sentence for drug possession is 12 months. All sentences will be served concurrently and he will receive credit for time served.

Mr. Graves will be under supervised release for the remainder of his life on the five counts of trafficking. That means his status will be roughly comparable to someone on parole or probation with stringent restrictions as long as he remains on this planet.

Sentencing also includes a fine of $625 to be repaid after release from prison. Obviously a fine would have minimal punitive value so there wasn’t a humongous financial penalty imposed.

The sentencing also orders forfeiture of the long list of disputed property.

Sentencing recommendation and argument for life sentence

The sentencing memorandum from the US Attorney explained the rationale for requesting a life sentence. The sentencing recommendation from the US Probation Office is under seal. Therefore I have to look at the prosecutor’s arguments to see the underling assessment and rationale for the recommendation.

The sentencing memorandum says the PSR (I think that is the pre-sentencing recommendation) calculated the federal guidelines are a total offense level of 39 with criminal history category III.

I previously made an uneducated guess that Mr. Graves would have a total offense level of 38. I calculated that as a base offense level of 34 plus an increase of four levels. I actually came close, since the PSR calculated total offense level of 39. That means there is an increase of five levels. Or I missed the base level. Or I missed both.

I am surprised my guess of 38 came close to the PSR determination of 39.

For the criminal history category, I calculated Mr. Graves to be at a level II based on what I can see in public documents. The PSR calculated a criminal history category of III. That makes a difference of 40 months at level 39 (from 292-365 up to 324-405).

The prosecutors describe Mr. Graves’ criminal history, which I will quote:

Defendant also has a serious and extensive criminal history, going back to when he was a juvenile. Defendant was charged and sentenced as a juvenile with transporting and selling narcotics on multiple occasions, Burglary, Possessing Burglary Tools, Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Shooting from a Vehicle, Forgery, Concealed Weapon, and DUI of a controlled Substance, not to mention several other serious offenses that contained no disposition.

That history as a juvenile is not publicly available, as I understand. It includes drug distribution, burglary, and several weapons charges. The prosecutors continue:

In addition, Defendant continued his criminal pattern of conduct into adulthood with convictions for False Information to Law Enforcement, Three counts of Lewd Acts Upon a Child under age 14, for which he was required to register as a sex offender, and Prostitution.

Notice the last part of the history: prostitution. The feds are suggesting this isn’t the first time Mr. Graves has been trafficking.

The three convictions for a lewd act relate to a case that resulted in a conviction on 9/30/1999 for charges that originated on 9/15/1998. I discussed this case before.

Of particular note is that Mr. Graves was 21 then. The only age indicated in the charges for the minor is under 14.

This is in sharp contrast to comments in the Overnighters documentary which suggested this was the case of a teenager merely fooling around with his girlfriend who was just a bit younger: 21 and 13 is in a completely different universe than say 18 and 16.

The prosecutors’ memorandum does not explain how the criminal level III is determined, but with the above information I can at least get an idea how that was calculated.

You can look up the sentencing guidelines yourself:

An offense level of 39 and criminal history III results in a recommended sentence of between 324 and 405 months.

The prosecutors spent several pages of the sentencing memorandum arguing for a discretionary increase by the trial judge to step up to a sentence of life. Essentially that is arguing for either an increase of one offense level and then going for the maximum in the 360-life or they were arguing for a four level increase which would result in a life sentence.

The judge’s determination of 405 months declines the prosecutor’s argument for an increase to life. It is however within the range of the sentencing recommendation for the offense level of 39 & criminal history III. That means the judge accepted the Probation Office recommendation and went for the maximum of the recommended range.

So that’s where the 33 years 9 months sentence came from.

I missed the range by one offense level and one criminal history level.

Notice of appeal

The docket in the PACER system contains notice from Mr. Graves’ attorney that he will be filing an appeal. There are several filed documents for the appeal. The appeal is identified as USCA Case Number 16-1462.

As of 2/29/16, Mr. Graves is not in custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

4 thoughts on “More background on Keith Graves’ sentencing.”

  1. What exactly does that mean as of 2/29/16 Mr Graves is NOT in custody of bureau of prisons? Where else would he be if he was sentenced to prison for 33 years?

    1. Hi Misty:

      That is a superb question.

      During the trial he was in local jail in or next to Bismarck. Prior to the trial he was held at the Heart of American Correctional and Treatment Center in Rugby, North Dakota, which is a county jail in Pierce County (prison The federal PACER system showed that the federal judge sent an order to HACTC to produce Mr. Graves for trial. After the trial, I assume he was moved back to HACTC from Bismarck.

      He will be transferred to custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons at some point for confinement in a federal prison. At that time, BoP will show his location and estimated date of release on their web site. At the moment, BoP has his name listed at their web site, which tells me they have been notified he is on the way and they are getting ready to receive him.

      So, today, 3/5/16, he must be in county custody at HACTC. Another possibility is that perhaps BoP has just not gotten their web site updated.

      Yet another possibility is the federal judge is allowing Mr. Graves to remain at HACTC so his attorney can give him some advice on how to file his appeal. The judge previously commented he would be patient in allowing Mr. Graves to file. Keeping him at HACTC would let his attorney be only a few hours away, which assumes Mr. Graves is savvy enough to listen to the advice.

      Thanks for asking!


      1. He was actually moved to Stutsman County Jail while waiting to be moved to federal custody.

        (I am a survivor from this trial)

      2. Hi Sarah:
        Thanks for taking time to comment. Thanks for the extra information on the movement.

        For other readers – Stutsman County jail is about 90 minutes east of Bismarck, ND, where the trial was held. Stutsman is about half way between Bismarck and Fargo.

        May God give you comfort and peace as you continue your recovery,

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