7th Circuit affirms sentence in South Bend firearm conviction

A sentence for a man convicted of possessing firearms as a felon was affirmed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals despite his acquittal of possessing drugs with intent to distribute.

Trent Slone was charged with possessing with intent to distribute 80 grams of methamphetamine found in a friend’s basement where he previously lived, as well as illegally possessing firearms as a felon.

In October 2019, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Agency pursued Slone after informants reported that he was selling methamphetamine out of his residence in South Bend. A raid of the basement apartment revealed two guns — a handgun and a rifle— more than 80 grams of meth and paperwork in Slone’s name.

Agents later found Slone staying at a different friend’s place, revealing a small amount of meth, a scale, and baggies in the apartment and a revolver in the friend’s van, which Slone had been borrowing.

Slone was ultimately acquitted on the drug charge but convicted on the firearm charge, receiving a 41-month sentence, at the bottom of the guidelines range of 41-51 months. The district court added two offense levels for obstruction of justice and applied a four-level enhancement, over Slone’s objection, under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) upon concluding that he possessed the firearms “in connection with” the felony offense of meth trafficking.

On appeal, Slone argued that his acquittal on the possession-with-intent charge made the enhancement inapplicable and that, because he had moved out of the basement before the raid, the government did not have sufficient evidence to connect him or the guns to the 80 grams of meth.

Slone also asserted that the government provided no evidence that he ever possessed the guns while engaging in the other alleged drug dealing. However, the 7th Circuit disagreed, affirming the district court in USA v. Trent Slone, 20-2721.

First noting “futility of Slone’s guidelines-based arguments,” the 7th Circuit found that the district court did not err in its decision. It concluded that the record contained ample support for its finding that Slone possessed guns in connection with felony meth trafficking.

“Though he was acquitted of drug possession, sentencing courts may consider acquitted conduct provided that its findings are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. There was more than enough evidence to meet that threshold here,” Circuit Judge Daniel Manion wrote for the 7th Circuit.

“First, the proximity of the guns in the basement to 80 grams of meth, baggies, and a digital scale alone supports the enhancement. Application Note 14(B) creates a presumption that the § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement is warranted whenever guns are found ‘in close proximity to drugs … or drug paraphernalia.’ Although Slone insists that the government lacked evidence connecting him to the drugs found in the basement because he moved out before the ATF raid, the owner of the house testified that the basement was Slone’s ‘domain’ and that most of his belongings were still present” the day agents searched, the 7th Circuit wrote.

“Second, even without considering the drugs seized in the raid, the record contained abundant evidence that Slone was dealing meth, and thus his guns had the ‘potential of facilitating’ that activity. Slone admitted to dealing meth and acting as a middleman for quantities ranging from grams to pounds,” it wrote.

Despite Slone’s protest that no evidence connected the guns to any of that trafficking, the 7th Circuit concluded that the government did not need to show that Slone ever carried or brandished the gun during a sale for the enhancement to apply.

Thus, it concluded that the district court reasonably inferred that the guns were likely present in the basement during pre-raid sales and therefore had the potential to facilitate Slone’s sales of large quantities of drugs.

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