Monday, June 07, 2010

Court Affirms 60-month Felon In Possession Sentence

US v. Knight: Police came to Knight's North Carolina hotel room and searched it, with her consent. There were three men in the room with her at the time. In the room, police recovered a loaded pistol from under the bed and some marijuana from the toilet. Knight admitted that the gun was hers, she got it for protection, and that she had a prior felony conviction. She was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, but disappeared for about a year afterwards. She pleaded guilty after being captured in Texas. At sentencing, her advisory Guideline range was 92 to 115 months in prison, but the district court varied downward and imposed a sentence of 60 months in prison.

Knight appealed her sentence, challenging the calculation of her advisory Guideline range in several ways. The Fourth Circuit affirmed her sentence. First, Knight argued that the district court erred in counting a prior Texas conviction for arson as a "crime of violence" under the Guidelines because that state's definition of the offense extends beyond the burning of buildings. The court disagreed, holding that the Texas offense encompasses the modern generic meaning of "arson," an offense specifically listed as a crime of violence. Second, Knight argued that she was entitled to a reduce for acceptance of responsibility in spite of receiving an enhancement for obstruction of justice based on her absconding. The court disagreed, holding that this was not one of the "exceptional" situations where a reduction was still appropriate, refusing to hold that acceptance is applicable as long as the obstructing behavior takes place before the entry of a guilty plea. Finally, Knight argued that the district court should have applied the version of the Guidelines in effect at the time of her offense rather than at the time of sentencing, which would have resulted in a two-level lower final offense level. Applying plain error review, the court found error and that it was plain (based on the recent decision in Lewis), but no prejudice, as it was not clear from the record that the district court's ultimate sentence was tied to a specific reduction from the (incorrectly calculated) Guideline range.

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