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7th Circuit: ‘Ransom demand’ requires third-party involvement

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In order to enhance a criminal sentence on the basis of a ransom demand, that demand must be conveyed to a third-party, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

In United States of America v. Tyrone Reynolds, 12-1206, Tyrone Reynolds challenged two sentencing guideline enhancements imposed following convictions of kidnapping and other offenses: a four-level enhancement for being the “leader or organizer” of the criminal activity, and a six-level enhancement for making a ransom demand during the crime. He received a life sentence.

Reynolds and seven other men originally from Belize drove from Chicago to Gary in order to rob Glenford Russell of his money and marijuana. Not believing that $15,000 was all Russell had, they tied him up and beat him. Later, the men drove to Chicago with Russell, believing that Russell could get them additional marijuana. He fled in Chicago and the eight men were later arrested.

Two of the men and Russell fingered Reynolds as the ringleader, pointing out he was the main one to interrogate Russell, Reynolds divvied up the money, and that he had decided the men would go to Chicago with Russell to get more drugs.

“The evidence was simply overwhelming that Reynolds oversaw the scheme and had greater relative responsibility than the other participants,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote.

But the judges ordered Reynolds resentenced because his enhancement for making a ransom demand isn’t supported by the evidence. “Ransom” isn’t defined in the guidelines, U.S.S.G. Section 2A4.1(b)(1), nor does the commentary shed any light on its definition. They concluded that Section 2A4.1(b)(1) may be applied only if kidnappers’ demands for “money or other consideration” reach someone other than the captured person.

The men who robbed and kidnapped Russell did not demand something from a third-party in exchange for his release. They only demanded the drugs or money from Russell to release him.

“Section 2A4.1(b)(1) is a substantial adjustment, and additional punishment is warranted when demands reach third parties because those who are contacted will experience great stress and may attempt a rescue, escalating the threat of violence,” Williams wrote. “But when a kidnapping is conducted without the knowledge of anyone except for the victim, the scope of the crime and risk of harm to others, while undoubtedly extensive, is nonetheless not as great.”

“Finally, we find it telling that although no appellate court has considered whether § 2A4.1(b)(1) requires the communication of demands to third parties, we have not found a single appellate decision where the adjustment had been applied to a defendant who did not intend for his demands to reach a third party,” she wrote.

 

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