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March 16, 2012

Eighth Circuit affirms lengthy (but way below-guideline) prison sentence for "inadvertent" illegal possession of "old hunting ammunition"

An otherwise inconsequential sentencing affirmance from the Eighth Circuit today in US v. Anderson, No. 10-3387 (8th Cir. Feb. 16, 2012) (available here), caught my attention because the facts justifying the federal conviction seem so innocuous and because the sentencing realities the defendant faced seem so remarkable.  Here are snippets from the opinion that made me consider this case blog-worthy:

A jury found Defendant-Appellant Craig Leslie Anderson guilty of being a felon in possession of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2)....

Concluding that Anderson had perjured himself at trial [by testifying he did not know he possessed the ammunition], the district court applied a two-level enhancement to Anderson's offense level pursuant to United States Sentencing Guidelines § 3C1.1, resulting in an adjusted advisory Guidelines range of 84–105 months.  The court then determined that a traditional departure was appropriate based on overstated criminal history pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4A1.3(b), and adjusted the advisory Guidelines range downward to 77–96 months.  Finally, the court granted a variance and imposed a sentence of 45 months' incarceration....

In the statement of reasons for the sentence, the district court explained ... "Anderson's crime is among the least serious felon-in-possession offenses that I have seen.  Mr. Anderson possessed old hunting ammunition that appears to have been inadvertently overlooked when law-enforcement officers confiscated his firearms and ammunition in 2005.  There is no evidence that Mr. Anderson could have used, or intended to use, the ammunition. I am not aware of any evidence that Mr. Anderson possessed a gun or any hunting gear....  Mr. Anderson's possession can fairly be described as inadvertent."

I also believe Mr. Anderson when he says that he did not know that his possession of the ammunition was illegal.... The State of Minnesota specifically warns felony-level probationers that they may not possess firearms, but the State does not warn that they may not possess ammunition.  There are logical reasons for this that have to do with the difference between state and federal law as well as the difference between criminal laws versus conditions of probation.  But these types of distinctions may be difficult for a layperson to appreciate....

"I do believe that, if Mr. Anderson had known that he could not possess ammunition, he may not be in the situation that he is in today.  For these reasons, I believe that the Guidelines range in this case is too high to serve the purposes of sentencing and that a downward variance is warranted."

In short, the defendant here was convicted of illegal possession of hunting shells, which he inadvertently possessed and likely did not know was illegal for him to possess.  Long-standing criminal doctrines about ignorance of the law means that his lack of knowledge of federal law does not allow him to escape liability, but even more remarkable is that the federal sentencing guidelines called for 7 to 9 years in federal prison(!) for the crime of "inadvertent" illegal possession of hunting shells.  (Importantly, this high sentencing range was driven up by the defendant's criminal history, though the district judge also concluded that these guidelines also were over-inflated in this case.)

To the district judge's sentencing cre"dit, he decided that he should not send Anderson to federal prison for the better part of a decade for the ghastly crime of "inadvertent" illegal possession of hunting shells.  Still, the judge decided that nearly four years in federal prison was necessary for this crime, and the Eighth Circuit panel required merely two sentences at the very end of its opinion to reach the conclusion that the imoposition of this lengthy federal prison term for this crime was reasonable and thus not an "abuse of discretion."

March 16, 2012 at 01:23 PM | Permalink


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And what has been accomplished..Nothing...zfederal federal deferal...If he didn't know he had it and didn't know it was illegal to have them...Dismiss the charges.. Have a brain don't think like a robot....We could have a computer program do sentenceing otherwise..The USA needs to be canned as well..

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Mar 16, 2012 3:35:49 PM

This is a sick perversion of justice! There is no way that the sentencing judge can believe both that the possession was inadvertent AND that 4 years is reasonable!

If the possession was inadvertent, where is prosecutorial discretion to do the right thing?

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Mar 16, 2012 4:06:23 PM

Truly outrageous. Shame on the U.S. Attorney for prosecuting this case. Shame on the Congress and the Sentencing Commission for their outrageous and irrational and draconian guidelines and shame on the judge for perverting justice. The machine just grinds on and on.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 16, 2012 4:21:27 PM

Honestly the shame goes to the US Attorney. Given that he prosecuted the case in the first place, if the judge had deviated downward any more the USA attorney would have been the one appealing. The judge couldn't win in this case IMO.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 16, 2012 5:04:27 PM

So the defendant's conduct was "inadvertent" but also done "knowingly"?

Posted by: anon | Mar 16, 2012 5:12:09 PM

The shame goes to anybody and everyone who has worked in the Federal Injustice System and considers it gainful, worthy and respectful employment.

"Grandpa, what did you do while you were working. You seem to have so much more money than our friends parents and grandparents."

"Well grandson, I put many people who had marginal infractions with the laws that were in place, being that we now had a predominant number of ex-DAs on the USSC to interpret what the Constitution "really" meant, behind bars for a long, long time. The US was a much safer place from those evil 1960s-1980's. Everybody else in private industry went broke, either because of exorbitant taxes, or we found a way to make them criminals also. Only government pensions were protected, along with an automatic COLA.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 16, 2012 5:27:42 PM

Albeed, Don't forget that Grandpa was also allowed privacy in all his actions working for the InJustice Dept. Can you find any AUSA or their spouses on any social network? Can you find them in the usual Intelius lookups? Probably harder to find than the Justices on the Supreme Court. They publish the names of the Supreme Court Justices but I've never seen a roster of employees for the Justice Dept.

Posted by: JS | Mar 16, 2012 8:10:56 PM

i think the only ones who deserve any jail time would be the idiots involved in this farce of a prosecution!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 16, 2012 8:56:36 PM

OK, so we as a society can't afford health care, the National Endowment for the Arts, after-school activities, fixing crumbling bridges and roads, public-employee unions, or the post office, but we can afford to put this man away for four years (at a cost of what, maybe $100,000?) for an "inadvertent" offense. I shall retire to Bedlam.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 17, 2012 11:36:34 AM

The down side of "strict liability".

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady | Mar 18, 2012 3:28:08 PM

more like the down side of "Criminal Govt Stupidity!"

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 18, 2012 5:21:31 PM

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