Thursday, July 01, 2021

924(c) Conviction Stands Where Guilty Plea Factually Supported Both Valid and Invalid Predicate Offenses

US v. CrawleyCrawly and “two codefendants invaded a home and robbed an individual they believed to be a drug dealer,” although he was not and no drugs were taken. Nonetheless, Crawly told police the plan was to steal “drug proceeds and half a kilogram of cocaine.” Crawley was charged with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, attempt to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine, using a firearm during a crime of violence (as well as a drug trafficking crime - namely, the crack offense) and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty to the Hobbs Act conspiracy and use of a firearm counts. Crawly later filed a 2255 motion, arguing that because Hobbs Act conspiracy was no longer a “crime of violence” his firearm conviction was no longer valid. The district court denied the motion, holding that while the Hobbs Act conspiracy could no longer support the firearm offense, the drug trafficking offense could and, therefore, the conviction stood.

A divided Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court relied on the statement of facts that was part of the plea agreement, in which Crawley admitted that he used the firearm both in relation to a crime of violence and a drug trafficking crime. The district court thus correctly relied on prior Fourth Circuit precedent that a firearm charge conviction after trial remains valid if one of the predicate offenses no longer counted as a crime of violence so long as another predicate still counted. The facts relied on by the district court were not “superfluous” and relying on them did not run afoul of Supreme Court precedent. The could also noted that Crawley “stipulated to the factual basis for the enumerated drug offense” even though he was not convicted of it. The court also concluded that in pleading guilty to a conjunctively charged count he was only admitting the “less serious statutory conduct,” concluding that the statement of facts was “akin to a” special verdict form identifying the factual basis for the conviction.

Judge Thacker dissented, arguing that nothing in the record showed that Crawley admitted to attempted possession of the drugs with the intent to distribute them.

No comments: