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August 31, 2005

Crimes of violence and another notable sentencing day at the Eighth Circuit

The Eighth Circuit, which can be counted upon for notable sentencing cases nearly every day, issued today four published opinions with signficicant sentencing discussions.  For most of these cases, I will just point readers to the official summaries on the 8th Circuit's opinion page, but I do want to give some attention to the legal issue and disposition in US v. Lindquist, No. 04-3753 (8th Cir. Aug. 31, 2005) (available here).

Lindquist itself is not all that exceptional, except that it provides another amazing example — and there are many recent circuit cases with other examples — of how broadly the guidelines definition of a "crime of violence" has been interpreted.  In Lindquist, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirms "the district court's holding that operating a vehicle without the owner's consent is a crime of violence as defined by § 4B1.2."  The Lindquist case especially caught my eye because it prompted Judge Heaney to write separately to restate his view "that our circuit has far too broad a conception of what the guidelines mean by stating that violent crimes include conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."  Here are portions of Judge Heaney's noteworthy opinion:

The district court increased Lindquist's base offense level because he had prior violent-crime convictions. Those Iowa state court convictions resulted from joyriding on an all-terrain vehicle before abandoning it in a field (operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent), and waiting in a car while Lindquist's friend opened an unlocked pickup truck door and stole its stereo (third-degree burglary). It conflicts with the very concept of a crime of violence to include these offenses in that category....

The purpose of crimes-of-violence enhancements is to treat violent criminal history more seriously than non-violent criminal history. It is not hard to conceive scenarios in which non-violent felony crimes could become violent, but, in my view, we ought not trivialize this guideline section's purpose by expanding the category too broadly.  Here, the result is that James Lindquist's sentence is increased substantially because of the "violent felony" of joyriding on a recreational vehicle.

The majority opinion remands Lindquist's case for resentencing due to an erroneous guidelines calculation, and I agree with that result. As the majority notes, the district court is now presented with the opportunity to resentence Lindquist under the advisory guidelines regime. We are not presented with the issue of whether a guidelines sentence for Lindquist would be unreasonable.[FN6]  With the increased latitude Booker bestowed on a district court's determination of the ultimate sentence, the district court in this case should consider whether a guidelines sentence would further the statutory sentencing goals of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

[FN6] A panel of our court recently held that a guidelines sentence "is generally indicative of reasonableness." United States v. Shannon, 414 F.3d 921, 924 (8th Cir. 2005). I do not believe the appropriately calculated guidelines range is to be given any more weight than any other factor laid out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). While we are not faced with the issue here, a defendant whose guidelines sentence was increased significantly solely due to the characterization of non-violent felonies as violent crimes could make a persuasive argument that a sentence within the guidelines was nonetheless unreasonable in view of § 3553(a)'s other factors.

August 31, 2005 at 01:02 PM | Permalink


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For those interested in cases dealing with "crimes of violence," the Fifth Circuit has been issuing some excellent opinions discussing this thorny issue in the context of 2L1.2 and 4B1.2. If you want a shortcut, call the FPD office in San Antonio.

Posted by: doug | Aug 31, 2005 4:12:11 PM

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