News You Can Use: Tenth Circuit Holds Colorado Attempted Robbery Is a Crime of Violence for Purposes of USSG 4B1.2(a)

When it comes to calculating your client’s advisory guidelines range, prior convictions that are counted as “crimes of violence” under USSG § 4B1.2 are bad news.

Section 4B1.2 doesn’t define what constitutes attempt.  Last week, the Tenth Circuit issued a published decision in United States v. Mendez, holding attempted robbery as defined in Colorado law qualifies as a crime of violence under the guidelines.

Be on the lookout for another post soon with more analysis about this ever-changing area of law and preservation arguments that might be worth making in your cases.

 

Resource: USSC releases new report on Revocations Among Federal Offenders

Check out the latest in the United States Sentencing Commission’s ongoing study of the criminal history of federal offenders.  A new report — Revocations Among Federal Offenders — explores a subset of the Commission’s criminal history rules—those regarding the revocation of terms of probation, parole, supervised release, special parole, and mandatory release.  The report analyzes the prevalence of revocations among federal offenders and the nature of the revocations. The Commission’s other research reports on criminal history are also worth a read.

Key findings include:

  • Only a minority of offenders (35.0%) with criminal history points under the federal sentencing guidelines had at least one scored conviction with a revocation. Most often such offenders had only one such conviction.
  • For the minority of offenders who did have at least one scored conviction with a revocation, it often increased their criminal history score and resulting Criminal History Category.
  • Among offenders with at least one scored conviction in their criminal history, three-fifths (60.2%) received additional criminal history points, and just under a third (30.9%) received an increase in Criminal History Category. For those offenders who received an increase into a higher Criminal History Category, the impact was generally limited to one Criminal History Category.
  • The rate at which offenders had at least one scored conviction with a revocation varied significantly depending on the type of federal offender. Firearms offenders were the most likely (54.3%) and immigration offenders the least likely (20.9%) to have at least one scored conviction with a revocation. However, the impact of such convictions on their criminal history scores and Criminal History Categories varied much less. Among offenders with at least one such conviction, firearms offenders were the most often (66.2%) and immigration offenders least often (55.9%) to receive additional criminal history points. Among offenders who received additional criminal history points, those points resulted in a higher Criminal History Category most often for drug trafficking offenders (53.1%) and least often for firearms offenders (42.9%).

 

News You Can Use: SCOTUS decides more ACCA predicate cases (Part 1)

The Supreme Court recently decided the consolidated cases of United States v. Stitt (and United States v. Sims), No. 17-765, 2018 WL 6439818  (U.S. Dec. 10, 2018). The opinion holds that burglary of a vehicle adapted for overnight accommodation of persons is a generic burglary for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The Stitt opinion is another in a line of cases that have asked whether certain burglary convictions qualify as predicate offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The defendants in these cases, Victor J. Stitt and Jason Daniel Sims, were each convicted in federal court of unlawfully possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(1). The sentencing judge in each case imposed the mandatory minimum 15-year prison term that the ACCA requires for §922(g)(1) offenders who have at least three previous convictions for certain “violent” or drug-related felonies, §924(e)(1), based in part on burglary convictions.

The Supreme Court has previously stated that burglary of a vehicle is not a valid ACCA predicate. But the narrower question in this case was whether statutes that cover burglaries of vehicles that have been adapted or customarily used for overnight accommodation should qualify as ACCA predicates because they fall within the “generic” definition of burglary.

The categorical approach

Recall that the categorical approach first adopted Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), requires courts to evaluate a prior state conviction by reference to the elements of the state offense, rather than to the defendant’s conduct. In other words, you can’t look at the underlying facts of the prior conviction to figure out whether the predicate counts. A prior state burglary conviction does not qualify under the ACCA where “the elements of [the relevant state statute] are broader than those of generic burglary.” Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016). Burglary statutes that cover vehicles as one possible means of committing the crime are therefore excluded from being predicate ACCA offenses because the statutes are overbroad. See, e.g., Mathis, 136 S. Ct. at 2250. (holding that Iowa statute covering burglary of “any building, structure, [or] land, water, or air vehicle” was overbroad and indivisible and thus did not qualify as an ACCA predicate).

The nitty gritty

Stitt’s prior convictions were for violations of a Tennessee statute that defines “[a]ggravated burglary” as “burglary of a habitation.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39–14–403(a) (1997). It further defines “[h]abitation” to include: (1) “any structure, including … mobile homes, trailers, and tents, which is designed or adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons,” and (2) any “self-propelled vehicle that is designed or adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons and is actually occupied at the time of initial entry by the defendant.” §§ 39–14–401(1)(A), (B) (emphasis added).

Similarly, Sims’ prior convictions were for violations of an Arkansas statute that prohibits burglary of a “residential occupiable structure.” Ark. Code Ann. § 5–39–201(a)(1) (Michie 1997). The statute defines “[r]esidential occupiable structure” to include:  “a vehicle, building, or other structure: (A) [w]here any person lives; or (B) [w]hich is customarily used for overnight accommodation of persons whether or not a person is actually present.” § 5–39–101(1) (emphasis added).

In both cases, the District Courts found the state statutory crimes fell within the scope of the word “burglary” in the Armed Career Criminal Act and consequently imposed that statute’s mandatory sentence enhancement. In both cases, the relevant Court of Appeals held that the statutory crimes did not fall within the scope of the word “burglary,” vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. The Government sought certiorari in both cases in part because of a circuit split that included an old Tenth Circuit case, United States v. Spring, 80 F.3d 1450, 1462 (10th Cir. 1996), which held that such burglary convictions would qualify as ACCA predicates.

The upshot

The Supreme Court surveyed state statutes from 1986 and earlier and determined that “a majority of state burglary statutes covered vehicles adapted or customarily used for lodging.” Stitt, 2018 WL 6439818, at *4. As a result, such burglary convictions were included within the definition of “generic burglary.” In so doing, the Supreme Court reversed the decisions below of the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, and also abrogated contrary precedent in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. See United States v. White, 836 F.3d 437, 446 (4th Cir. 2016); United States v. Grisel, 488 F.3d 844 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). Justice Breyer wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Takeaways

  • Burglary convictions/statutes that cover vehicles plain and simple are still out, but statutes that cover vehicles “adapted for overnight accommodation of persons” will now qualify as ACCA predicates—as long as they are not overbroad and indivisible in some other way.
  • For a refresher on the categorical approach, see Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), available here.
  • Remember: burglary convictions are NEVER crimes of violence under the career offender provisions of the Guidelines (this case affects only potential ACCA clients).

 

 

News You Can Use: Tenth Circuit reaffirms constructive possession requires intent to exercise control over an object, in a published decision involving 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

The Tenth Circuit just decided United States v. Giannukos, reaffirming that constructive possession requires intent to exercise control over an object, and not just knowledge and ability to exercise control over the object.

Recall, the Supreme Court recently held that “[c]onstructive possession is established when a person, though lacking such physical custody, still has the power and intent to exercise control over the object.” Henderson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1780, 1784 (2015). In United States v Little, the Tenth Circuit adopted this holding, and explained that both the power and intent to exercise dominion or control over the object are essential to establish constructive possession. In Giannukos, the Tenth Circuit held that the post-Little definition of constructive possession must apply to a 924(c) charge for possession in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

The defendant in Giannukos went to trial on drug and gun charges. The government alleged he was distributing drugs out of his residence, and that he possessed two firearms in furtherance of that crime. The two firearms were found in a house he shared with a friend and his girlfriend.  One gun was found in a hutch in a common area of the house, and the other was found next to a pink bag in the bedroom that the defendant and his girlfriend shared.  DNA testing of the first gun turned up DNA from three unspecified people, at least one of them male. The major DNA contributor to the second gun was female.  A holster fitting the second gun was found inside the pink bag.

The government’s theory of the case was the defendant possessed the guns in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and charged him with a 924(c) offense. The judge instructed the jury that it could find constructive possession of the guns if it determined the defendant “knowingly had the power” to “exercise dominion and control over” them.  Op. at 6.  As the Tenth Circuit would later hold in Little, this instruction misstates the law.  The jury convicted on all counts, including the 924(c) count, which meant the jury found Mr. Giannukos possessed the firearms “in furtherance of” his drug trafficking crimes. Op. at 14.  The jury had been instructed that “in furtherance of” means “for the purpose of assisting in” the drug crimes.  The government argued that if the jury found (as it did) that Mr. Giannukos intended the guns to further his drug dealing, it necessarily – or at least quite likely – thought he also intended to exercise control over the guns, so the Little error was harmless.

The Tenth Circuit disagreed. It first held that the constructive possession instruction was erroneous and that the error was plain, satisfying the first and second prong of the plain error analysis. The Tenth Circuit also held that the error was prejudicial, even as to the 924(c) count. It reasoned the defendant could have known the guns were in the house and believed they would help fend off robberies to protect his stash (possession in furtherance) without intending to exercise control over the guns himself. In other words, the Tenth Circuit held that, under the third prong, there was a “reasonable probability” that a properly instructed jury (one that had been given the post-Little instruction) would not have convicted Mr. Giannukos of constructively possessing firearms. There is also some good fourth-prong plain error law in the opinion.  The Circuit holds that any prejudicial error in a jury instruction on the elements will meet the fourth prong in light of the “revered status of the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in our criminal jurisprudence.”  Op. at 17.


TAKEAWAYS:

  1. There is a relatively new Tenth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction that adopts the post-Little definition of constructive possession.
  2. The post-Little constructive possession instruction applies to any crime where possession is an element: constructive possession requires both the power and the intent to exercise dominion and control over an object
  3. Where there is prejudicial error in a jury instruction that affects one of the elements of the crime charged, the fourth prong of the plain error test will almost always be satisfied.

 

 

News You Can Use: SCOTUS grants cert in Haymond — why that might matter to your clients facing revocation of supervised release in the Tenth Circuit

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in United States v. Haymond, in which the Tenth Circuit struck down as unconstitutional 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k)’s provision requiring a mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment following revocation of supervised release based on certain sex crimes.

Generally, a defendant faces a supervised release term of no more than 5 years, and upon revocation for a violation, a term of imprisonment of no more than 5 years. That’s where the underlying offense of conviction is a class A felony. The potential penalties are progressively less severe for less serious offenses.

However, 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) carves out a special, and especially extreme, exception for certain sex offenses and revocations based on the commission of new sex offenses—a supervised release term of 5 years to life, and upon revocation, a term of imprisonment of 5 years to life. So, what is usually the ceiling (a 5-year max for class A felonies) becomes the floor (a mandatory minimum of 5 years for certain sex offenses).

In Haymond, the Tenth Circuit held that the mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment is unconstitutional because it changes the mandatory sentencing range based on a court’s finding by a preponderance of the evidence, instead of a jury’s finding beyond a reasonable doubt.

In so holding, the Court primarily relied on a trio of Supreme Court cases: (1) Apprendi, which held that any fact that increases the stat max must be submitted to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) Alleyne, which applied Apprendi to mandatory minimums; and (3) Booker, which extended the substance of these 6th Amendment principals to the sentencing context.

The government petitioned for certiorari, and the Supreme Court granted it, even though the Tenth Circuit is the only court to have even considered the issue (so, no circuit split; the government’s pitch was error correction on a “significant and recurring question of federal law”), and § 3583(k) does not appear to be a frequently invoked statute. That might not bode well for Haymond’s survival.

Takeaway: If you have a client facing revocation based on § 3583(k), or want to make an argument based on an extension of Haymond, move quickly. Do not let the government stay the proceedings pending resolution of Haymond in the Supreme Court. See Yong v. I.N.S., 208 F.3d 1116, 1119 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000) (“[O]nce a federal circuit court issues a decision, the district courts within that circuit are bound to follow it and have no authority to await a ruling by the Supreme Court before applying the circuit court’s decision as binding authority . . . .”).

 

News You Can Use: 2018 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines, Effective 11/1/2018

The 2018 Amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines go into effect on November 1, 2018.  The National Sentencing Resource Counsel Project has prepared a helpful summary of the changes and also included relevant practice tips (noted as “Defender comments”). The SRC memo is available here: SRC Summary of 2018 Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines.

Notable changes include amendments to:

(1) the drug guidelines for synthetic drugs, namely cathinones, cannabinoids, and fentanyl analogues;

(2) the illegal reentry guideline;

(3) the acceptance of responsibility guideline (now adding language to clarify that unsuccessful challenges to relevant conduct should not bar application of the acceptance reduction);

(4) the Commentary to §5C1.1 (now directing that courts “should consider imposing a sentence other than” imprisonment for nonviolent first offenders falling in Zones A and B);

(5) the Commentary to §4A1.3 (now providing a non-exhaustive list of factors a court may consider in determining whether and to what extent to depart upward based on tribal court convictions);

(6) the fraud guideline (now adding the 20th specific offense characteristic to §2B1.1 for defendants convicted of certain forms of social security fraud).

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Please make sure to look at the actual language of the Amendments  on the Commission’s website. And, recall that, for amendments that hurt defendants, ex post facto limitations apply, and the Guidelines Manual in effect on the date of the offense of conviction should apply if beneficial.

 

 

News You Can Use: Tenth Circuit Rules It’s Plain Error to Impose Upward Variance Based on State/Federal Sentencing Disparity

In United States v. Beaver, No. 17-2151, the Tenth Circuit issued an unpublished decision holding the district court plainly erred by imposing an upward variance based, in part, on its view that a Guidelines sentence would have created disparities between the defendant’s sentence and the sentences imposed in state court for the same conduct.

The defendant drove drunk and had an accident resulting in the death of two passengers. The defendant was prosecuted in federal court because the accident occurred in Indian country and because Mr. Beaver is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, and his Guidelines range was 41 to 51 months’ imprisonment.

The Government argued for an upward variance to a 120-month sentence. The defense argued that Mr. Beaver’s sentence should be capped at 48 months because the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico (the state where the crime occurred) is 48 months, and Mr. Beaver should not receive a longer sentence simply because he is a Native American. The Government’s reply, however, turned this argument back against the defense–pointing out that New Mexico has a specific statute for Homicide by Vehicle, which has a minimum sentence of 48 months and a maximum sentence of 456 months. Further, at the sentencing hearing, the Government argued that a Guidelines sentence would amount to disparate treatment in favor of the defendant.

The district court accepted the Government’s reasoning and varied upward to 120 months’ based, in part, on its perception that a Guidelines sentence would be significantly lower than Mr. Beaver would have received in state court.

The Tenth Circuit held that this was plainly erroneous. First, even though it was the defense that first raised state/federal disparity, the Court rejected the Government’s argument that the defense invited the error; the defense hadn’t asked for a longer sentence on the ground of state/federal disparity and, therefore, hadn’t invited this particular error. Second, even though the defense had argued for a lower sentence, it hadn’t preserved the particular argument it was making on appeal (that sentencing courts can’t consider state/federal disparity), so that argument could be reviewed only for plain error. Third, the district court’s sentencing decision was plainly erroneous because, under prior precedent, United States v. Wiseman, 749 F.3d 1191 (10th Cir. 2014), courts may only consider the need to avoid disparities among similarly situated federal defendants and may not consider disparities between state defendants and federal defendants.

 Takeaways:

 1) The sentencing judge isn’t allowed to increase or decrease a sentence to make it conform with sentences for similar offenses in state court.

 2) Double-check your sentencing disparity arguments to ensure that they can’t backfire, as the defense’s argument did in this case.

 3) On appeal, you may be able to defeat the Government’s claim of invited error by arguing that, though the defense invited the district court to commit the same type of error in arguing for a lower sentence, the defense didn’t argue for a higher sentence on those grounds.