Friday, May 18, 2012

Vulnerable victim enhancement application affirmed

US v. Etoty:  This appellant challenged the district court’s application of the "vulnerable victim" enhancement at the time of her sentencing for social security fraud and aggravated identity theft. At sentencing, Etoty argued that she did not specifically know whether the victim’s disability was physical or mental, and that the victim’s disability did not facilitate the fraud, which the district court rejected.

The Foruth Circuit reviews sentencing determinations under an abuse of discretion standard. Under the advisory sentencing guidelines, a two-level increase attaches if the "defendant knew or should have known that a victim of the offense was a vulnerable victim." A two-step analysis is thus employed to determine 1) that the victim was unusually vulnerable; and 2) that the defendant knew or should have known of this unusual vulnerability.

Evidence adduced at trial was found credible and the Fourth Circuit did not disturb the district court’s determination that the victim had a learning disability and a back problem, and that she received social security benefits. Additionally, Etoty conceded knowledge at trial that she knew the victim was disabled and was receiving disability payments - ample proof to the Fourth Circuit that Etoty knew the victim was indeed vulnerable.

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