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7th Circuit upholds 300-month sentence

June 13, 2012

The United States Sentencing Guidelines aren’t susceptible to vagueness challenges, so a defendant’s claim that the career offender sentencing guideline is unconstitutionally vague failed, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Cristofer Tichenor pleaded guilty to armed robbery and discharging a firearm in connection with robbing a bank in Cicero, Ind. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he retained the right to appeal the applicability of the career offender sentencing guideline. His attorney originally raised an objection to the application of this guideline, but later withdrew it at the sentencing hearing based on Sykes v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2267 (2011).

The District Court applied the career offender enhancement – based on prior convictions of dealing hash oil and resisting law enforcement – and sentenced Tichenor to 300 months in prison.

Tichenor argued on appeal that the career offender sentencing guideline is unconstitutionally vague and the U.S. Sentencing Commission exceeded its authority in enacting the current definition of “crime of violence.”

Citing previous caselaw on these issues, the 7th Circuit found that the Sentencing Guidelines can’t be challenged for vagueness and that the Sentencing Commission didn’t exceed its authority by putting into effect the “crime of violence” definition.

“The vagueness doctrine is concerned with providing fair notice and preventing arbitrary enforcement. Since the Guidelines are merely advisory, defendants cannot rely on them to communicate the sentence that the district court will impose,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum in United States of America v. Cristofer Tichenor, No. 11-2433.

The judges also noted that Tichenor was on notice that his prior conviction of resisting law enforcement qualified as a “crime of violence” at the time he committed the armed robbery.

In addition, the Sentencing Commission has the authority to adopt the current definition of “crime of violence,” even if it is a deviation from the definition that Congress had envisioned, Flaum wrote, citing United States v. Rutherford, 54 F.3d 370, 374 n.11 (7th Cir. 1995).  

 

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