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August 30, 2012

Fourth Circuit vacates LWOP sentence for illegal gun possession premised on uncharged murder

A Fourth Circuit panel handed down an an intricate set of opinions today in US v. Horton, No. 11-4052 (4th Cir. Aug. 30, 2012) (available here). The ruling provides yet another reminder that, despite the Supreme Court's work in Blakely now more than 8 years ago, federal defendants still frequently face much longer sentences based on questionable judicial fact-finding by a perponderance of evidence under the federal sentencing guidelines. In Horton, however, the defendant got a break thanks to the Fourth Circuit view of how the guidelines should be applied, as this first paragraph from the majority opinion reveals:

Timothy Tyrone Horton appeals his conviction for possessing a firearm while a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924, and also appeals the district court’s imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment.  For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm Horton’s conviction.  We conclude, however, that the district court erred in applying the murder cross-reference provision in United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("USSG" or "Guidelines") § 2K2.1(c)(1) and in treating as relevant conduct a murder that occurred during the course of an unrelated and uncharged offense, which error substantially increased Horton’s advisory Guidelines range.  Accordingly, we vacate Horton’s sentence and remand for resentencing.

August 30, 2012 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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That is an interesting opinion, but it looks like a rather clinical interpretation of guidelines language; after all, the Fourth Circuit pretty much concludes that it should rule the same way most other circuits have.

But if the appellate court's description of the evidence of the murder is accurate, the real shock is that any judge could seriously find by a "preponderance of the evidence" that this guy had committed a murder. Basically, the evidence consists of a bunch of conflicting stories by people who did not witness the murder, some of whom said they heard he was involved and some of whom heard that he wasn't. That doesn't even create probable cause, in my opinion. What's really offensive is the reliance on the "conclusions" of a police officer, apparently without any testimony by a real witness. This judge appears to have pretty much abandoned the role of a determiner of fact.

Posted by: C.E. | Aug 31, 2012 12:31:22 AM

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