Monday, May 14, 2012

Procedural error in sentencing; insufficient fact findings

US v. E. Davis:  The appellant, Davis, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession in ammunition, and had been sentenced with a cross-reference to the robbery sentencing guideline. Previously, Davis had pleaded "no contest" in North Carolina to a robbery charge in a related, state court prosecution. In this appeal, Davis challenges the application of the robbery advisory sentencing guideline, as insufficient evidence supported the cross-reference. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s sentence because the district court failed to resolve a factual dispute in its application of the robbery guideline, thus appellate review was constrained.

The Fourth Circuit found that the correct application of the guidelines hinges on factual determinations to be made by the district court. Here, there were two plausible factual scenarios on the record which could have explained how a cell phone came into Davis’s possession; the manner in which Davis came to possess the cell phone is key to the correct guideline application. The Fourth Circuit held that Davis’s "no contest" plea to common law robbery could not provide the necessary evidentiary basis for the robbery guideline cross-reference application.

The Fourth Circuit sends the case back to the district court to determine whether the government has met its burden of proof, and whether the robbery cross-reference should legitimately apply in this case.

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