Wednesday, November 02, 2011

No mens rea Required for Stolen Firearm Enhancement; Counsel's Affirmation OK Basis for ACCA Prior

US v. Taylor: Taylor and his codefendant, Thompson, were both convicted by a jury of being felons in possession of a firearm (same one, actually). A police officer in Baltimore saw Taylor hand the weapon to Thompson. When officers approached to arrest them, Thompson fled, dropping the gun along the way. Taylor received a sentence 96 months in prison, partly due to a two-level enhancement based on the firearm being stolen, while Thompson got a sentence of 180 months in prison, based on the application of the ACCA.

Taylor challenged both his conviction and sentence on appeal. As to the conviction, the Fourth Circuit concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support it, even though it was based on the direct observation of only one police officer (upon whose credibility Taylor launched "an extended attack"). As to the sentence, Taylor argued that the two-level enhancement for possession of a stolen firearm could not apply because it lacks a mens rea requirement. The court rejected that argument, noting that every other Circuit has rejected it and concluding that a mens rea requirement, while important in general, is not required for every sentencing enhancement to apply. The court also concluded that Taylor's bottom-of-the-Guideline range sentence was substantively reasonable.

Thompson challenged only his sentence on appeal, specifically whether a prior Maryland conviction for second-degree assault was a "violent felony" under the ACCA. The district court had relied upon a recitation of facts at Thompson's state plea hearing as a basis for concluding that the conviction was a violent felony. Thompson did not directly affirm those facts, but his counsel said there were no "additions or corrections" to that recitation. The court turned away Thompson's reliance on Alston, noting that his plea was not an Alford plea. That his lawyer, rather than Thompson himself, affirmed the factual basis for the plea was irrelevant.

Judge Davis dissented with regards to Thompson's sentence, arguing that the majority effectively rewrites Shepard and its protections for a defendant to not be bound by anything not explicitly agreed to by him.

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