Monday, January 23, 2012

Career offender enhancement principles warrant remand

United States v. Jones:  A husband and wife appeal their convictions for methamphetamine possession and conspiracy to distribute it. The couple’s convictions resulted from their conditional guilty pleas, which preserved their right to appeal the denial of pretrial motions to suppress. The Fourth Circuit upheld the denial of the motions to suppress, but vacated the husband’s sentence and remanded.

A burn victim at a hospital in North Carolina informed police that he received his injuries from a meth lab explosion at the defendants’ home. The police went to the home, but did not detect any evidence of a meth lab explosion. Mr. Jones spoke with police and denied knowing anything about the burn victim or alleged explosion. When the police were leaving the scene, one of the officers recalled that Mr. Jones may have had an outstanding warrant, and placed him, standing in his doorway, under arrest. Mrs. Jones objected to the arrest, but she did not obstruct the police.

The officers then decided to conduct a protective sweep of the Jones residence for officer safety. The police officers located a marijuana cigarette near where Mrs. Jones was sitting in the house, so they placed her under arrest for possession of marijuana. An officer remained at the residence after both Joneses were taken to the county sheriff’s office, in order to secure the residence until other officers could secure a search warrant. Later that day, pursuant to warrant, the police seized drug paraphernalia and a meth mixture.

In the hearing on defendants’ motion to suppress, the court concluded that the protective sweep of the Jones residence was constitutionally permissible under Maryland v. Buie. Subsequently, the couple entered their conditional guilty pleas to possession of meth, and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute it. At Mr. Jones’ sentencing, he objected to the determination in the PSR of his career offender enhancement, and both defendants objected to the amount of relevant drug conduct recommended by the PSRs.

Prior to oral argument in this appeal, the Fourth Circuit decided United States v. Simmons, in which the Fourth Circuit concluded that a conviction like Mr. Jones’ predicate conviction, one that was not punishable by more than one year in prison, does not qualify as a prior felony for the purposes of the career offender provision. So, the government conceded that Mr. Jones’s sentence was procedurally unreasonable and should be vacated and remanded, which the Fourth Circuit did here.

The protective sweep in question was found constitutionally permissible because the police reasonably believed that other individuals may have been present who presented a danger to them based on the following: surveillance of the residence, known drug users frequented the house, information that a fugitive from Georgia was staying there, and seven vehicles present at the scene despite assurances from Mr. and Mrs. Jones that they were alone.

1 comment:

Chera said...

Thank you for this information Ms. Leddy. In consideration and referencing the Simmons case, Re: two prior felonies (that could have carried a year or more sentence) & that previously counted toward the career offender enhancement...does this affect the points level when they are re-sentenced? Or, I guess what I am wondering is after an offender is vacated, remanded, and to be brought back to court for re-sentencing, are those two felonies even counted as felonies when the PSR's are reviewed?