Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Illegal re-entry & prior TX burglary conviction lead to enhanced sentence

US v. Bonilla:  Francisco Bonilla pleaded guilty to one count of illegal re-entry; the presentence report ordered in advance of the sentencing in his case included an enhancement based on his prior state conviction for burglary of a habitation in Texas. Bonilla objected to the application of this enhancement, arguing that this prior conviction did not qualify as a crime of violence as required in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990).

In Taylor, the Supreme Court set out to uniformly define "burglary" from the variety of definitions in different States’ criminal codes. The Fourth Circuit discusses Taylor at length as the backdrop for making its decision here, and the short version: if the state definition corresponds "substantially" to generic burglary, then the sentencing enhancement at stake here applies.

The Fifth Circuit has held that a burglary conviction under the same code section as Bonilla received is NOT a generic burglary under Taylor, because it does not contain an intent element to commit a felony, theft, or assault at the moment of entry. The Fourth Circuit respectfully states that this holding results from a "too rigid" reading of Taylor, and Bonilla’s guilty plea contained all the elements to satisfy Taylor’s description of generic burglary "notwithstanding that Bonilla might not have formulated his intent prior to the unlawful entry." The dissent’s well-reasoned view supports the opposite conclusion, based on the common law notion that intent must be contemporaneous with the other elements of the offense, in order for a burglary to satisfy Taylor.

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