Judge’s reliance on paraphrase leads to overturned sentence

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the enhanced sentence of an Indiana man, ruling the enhancement did not apply because the gun he possessed was not the one used in the commission of the crime.

Michael Price was captured by police as he fled from an Indianapolis home where he had fired a revolver through the closed front door, striking a resident in the leg before dropping and leaving the gun at the scene. Upon pulling him over, officers found a Taurus pistol in Price’s truck, which was illegal for him to possess because he has a felony record.

Price subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 110 months in prison. The presentence report recommended that the judge add four offense levels under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B), which applies when the defendant “used or possessed any firearm or ammunition in connection with another felony offense.”

According to his brief filed at the 7th Circuit, Price objected to the four-point increase to his sentence.

The federal appellate court overturned the judgment in United States of America v. Michael Price, 20-2490, finding the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana erred by not specifying the sentence was independent of §2K2.1(b)(6)(B).

Taking a closer look, the 7th Circuit found that Judge James Sweeney quoted from a paraphrase of §2K2.1(b)(6)(B) rather than the actual text at sentencing. The paraphrase stated four levels could be added if the “defendant possessed the firearm while committing another felony offense,” but the actual language made the distinction that the enhancement is appropriate only if the firearm was involved in or contributed to the other felony.

Judge Frank Easterbrook noted the district court did not find that the Taurus played a role in the crime. The failure to make that essential finding, Easterbrook wrote, is why the 7th Circuit had to remand.

“We have encouraged district judges to say on the record that the parties’ dispute about a particular issue under the Guidelines does not matter to the sentence,” Easterbrook continued, citing United States v. White, 883 F.3d 983, 987 (7th Cir. 2018). “The district judge could have said this, given the fact that Price committed a separate federal felony by possessing and shooting the revolver. But the judge did not declare that the sentence is independent of §2K2.1(b)(6)(B), so we could not find the error to be harmless even if the United States had made a harmless-error argument.”

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