Monday, February 26, 2007

Trial on 924(c) Charge Doesn't Preclude Acceptance on Related Drug Counts

US v. Hargrove: Hargrove was charged with multiple drug counts and a 924(c) charge. He pleaded guilty to the drug counts and went to trial on the 924(c) charge, for which he was also convicted. At sentencing, Hargrove was denied credit for acceptance of responsibility on the drug counts because he went to trial on the 924(c) charge. The district court concluded that it lacked the authority to give Hargrove credit for acceptance because of the 924(c) trial.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed, narrowly, 2-1. The court first concluded that the "offense of conviction" to which the acceptance reduction would apply was the grouped drug counts, not the 924(c) charge (which, of course, exists outside the Guidelines anyway). Therefore, the district court had the legal ability to award Hargrove acceptance of responsibility because of his guilty pleas on the drug counts. However, the court went out of its way to make clear that Hargrove was not necessarily entitled to the reduction, only that the district court had the power to award it. The message seems clear - the district court has the legal authority, but it probably shouldn't exercise it on remand. Judge Wilkins dissented, arguing that denying the facts of any charged offense, regardless of grouping, precludes a defendant from receiving credit for acceptance of responsibility.

No comments: