Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alford pleas are adjudications of guilt

US v. King:  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the sentence imposed by the district court in this possession of a firearm by a convicted felon case. The appellant argued the following errors were made: 1) that his prior, South Carolina conviction for pointing and presenting a firearm qualified as a "crime of violence" at sentencing; 2) a prior case in which he entered an Alford plea to involuntary manslaughter was a "prior sentence" under the Guidelines; and 3) the district court did not provide a sufficient explanation for the sentence imposed.

The Fourth Circuit discussed how it employed a "modified categorical approach" that it only uses in a narrow group of cases in which it looks beyond the generic elements of the offense to the specific conduct underlying the prior offense, in order to determine whether the conviction is a "crime of violence." Here, the Fourth Circuit determined that since King’s crime involved his pointing and presenting a firearm in a threatening manner at another person, based on how South Carolina courts interpret the statute under which he was convicted, that his crime qualified as a "crime of violence."

The Third Circuit, in US v. Mackins, provided guidance to the Fourth in determining that convictions resulting from Alford pleas can serve as predicate convictions for the purposes of calculating an individual’s criminal history points. The parties disagreed whether an Alford plea qualifies as an "adjudication of guilt" and the Fourth Circuit concluded that it does because an Alford plea requires a factual basis, and it can only be accepted by the court when the record contains "strong evidence of actual guilt."

Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that the district court was within its discretion when it granted the government’s motion for an upward variance, because the court offered several reasons on the record for its decision, including what it viewed as King’s increasingly violent behavior.

No comments: