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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decided one Indiana case Feb. 23rd

In USA v. Christopher Seals (ND Ind., Springmann), a 17-page opinion, Judge Pallmeyer (Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation) writes:

Three armed men robbed a bank in Fort Wayne, Indiana on Valentine’s Day 2013. A jury determined that Christopher Seals was one of those men, convicting him in September 2014 of armed bank robbery, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, and pos-session of a firearm after a felony conviction. The district court sentenced Seals to 272 months in prison. On appeal, Seals argues that his conviction should be reversed because the government introduced improper propensity evidence. He also argues that his sentence should be vacated due to the district court’s allegedly erroneous application of two different sentencing enhancements. We affirm Seals’ convic-tion, but vacate his sentence, and remand for resentencing. * * *

This circuit has never explicitly reached the question of whether § 1B1.3(a) demands that either enhancement at is-sue here—U.S.S.G. §§ 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) and 3C1.2—be related to the offense of conviction. But the plain language of the Guidelines as well as decisions from numerous other circuits suggest that the answer is “yes.” * * *

In this case, the district court made no findings that would support the conclusion that the offenses of convic-tion—all of which stem from the robbery on February 14, 20135—were connected to the behavior underlying the two enhancements applied here (i.e., the possession of a firearm and the reckless flight). Application of the enhancements without such a finding constitutes error.

The district court’s application of §§ 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) and 3C1.2 is also plagued by another misstep: the court made no factual findings regarding Seals’ participation in the March 20 car chase. * * *

We note, however, that the district court’s error may well have been harmless had the court not tied its sentencing decision so closely to the Guidelines. Post-Booker, district courts are free to move away from the details of the Guidelines and consider conduct, such as the car chase here, for the light it sheds on the defendant’s incorrigibility and dangerousness. For instance, remand would not be necessary had the district judge stated that she would have imposed the same sentence with or without the enhancements, because she deemed the car chase significant regardless of its effect on the Guidelines calculation. In this vein, the district court may well impose a reasonable sentence equal in length to the original sentence by exercising its judgment under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 24, 2016 09:57 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions