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U.S. v. John

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


filed: June 13, 1991; As Corrected June 26, 1991.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE
v.
KEITHROY JOHN, APPELLANT

On Appeal From the District Court of the Virgin Islands (Division of St. Croix); D.C. Crim. No. 90-00023.

Becker, Scirica and Alito, Circuit Judges.

Author: Becker

Opinion OF THE COURT

BECKER, Circuit Judge

Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines"), a defendant over the age of 18, who is convicted of a felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense, will be subject to sentencing as a career offender if he has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense. Guidelines § 4B1.1 et seq. Defendant Keithroy John, who was convicted of a controlled substance offense in the District Court of the Virgin Islands, had prior convictions for assault in the third degree, which John concedes to be a crime of violence, and grand larceny under a Virgin Islands statute, which he does not. The statutory elements of grand larceny do not implicate violence but the underlying facts of the offense do. This appeal from the judgment of sentence therefore presents the question whether, in determining the existence vel non of a crime of violence as a predicate to career offender status, the sentencing court properly considered the actual facts underlying the predicate conviction, or whether it should have been constrained by the statutory elements of the offense.

We conclude that the district court properly considered the underlying facts, and that it did not err in determining that John was a career offender and in sentencing him accordingly. We therefore will affirm.

I.

On March 1, 1990, at approximately 8:30 p.m., while John was standing across the street from his home in Estate Mon Bijou, St. Croix, he was observed by Narcotics Strike Force agents engaged in a hand-to-hand drug sale. When the agents approached, John dropped a plastic sandwich bag, some portion of the contents of which he apparently was about to hand to a Mr. Didier in exchange for a twenty-dollar bill. The bag was retrieved and, upon examination, was found to contain seventeen rock-like pieces which ultimately tested positive for the presence of crack cocaine. John entered a plea of not guilty but was convicted by a jury of possession of crack with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(a)(1) (West 1981).*fn1

The critical issue at the sentencing hearing was John's career offender status, which turned on whether his prior grand larceny conviction qualified as a crime of violence. If he were not a career offender, absent a departure from the Guidelines, John would have been sentenced within a Guidelines range of 63 to 78 months based upon an offense level of 22 and a criminal history category of IV. See Guidelines Chapter 5, Part A. However, career offender status required elevation of John's offense level to 32 and his criminal history category to VI, which combination yields a Guidelines sentencing range of 210 to 262 months. Id.

The Virgin Islands Code defines grand larceny as "the unlawful taking, . . . [of] the personal property of another . . . of $100.00 or more in value." See V.I. Code Ann. tit. 14, §§ 1081, 1083 (1964). On its face, this definition does not indicate that violence is a necessary element of the offense. However, the presentence investigation report ("PSI") made available to the district court described the underlying conduct for which John had been convicted as follows:

The defendant, in concert with two codefendants, entered a home and threatened the occupants with guns. Cash and other personal property was [sic] taken. He entered a guilty plea and was paroled on May 14, 1979. Parole was revoked on October 10, 1980, following his conviction in Cr. No. 80/21.

John agreed at the sentencing hearing that the PSI was accurate in every respect, including presumably in its description of the circumstances surrounding his grand larceny conviction.

Following the sentencing hearing, at which the career offender issue was the primary focus, the district court concluded that the grand larceny conviction, like the assault conviction, constituted a crime of violence because: (1) larceny is included among those crimes defined as a "crime of violence" under the Control, Firearms, and Ammunition Chapter of Title 23 of the Virgin Islands Code, see 23 V.I. Code Ann. tit. 23, § 451(d) (Supp. 1990); and (2) the description set forth in the PSI of John's conduct clearly indicated that the grand larceny conviction qualified as a crime of violence. The district court therefore sentenced John as a career offender to a term of 210 months, the bottom of the applicable Guidelines range. This appeal followed, in which the only contention of substance relates to the career offender issue.*fn2

II.

John argues, as he must, that the district court erred both in relying on the Virgin Islands Code's definition of grand larceny as a "crime of violence" and in looking through to the actual conduct underlying John's grand larceny conviction, instead of limiting its inquiry to the statutory elements of the offense, to determine whether the crime involved violence. We consider only John's latter claim in detail here, as the former is clearly correct. See infra n.4.

The term "crime of violence," which is the essential element of career offender status at issue, is defined under the Guidelines as follows:

The term "crime of violence" means any offense under federal or state law punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year that --

(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, or

(ii) is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

Guidelines § 4B1.2(1) (emphasis added).

The Application Notes to this section restate this definition, and clarify it somewhat, as follows:

"Crime of violence" includes murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated assault, forcible sex offenses, robbery, arson, extortion, extortionate extension of credit, and burglary of a dwelling. Other offenses are included where (A) that offense has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, or (B) the conduct set forth in the count of which the defendant was convicted involved use of explosives or, by its nature, presented a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

Application Note 2 to Guidelines § 4B1.2 (emphasis added).

We think it plain from these passages that the Sentencing Commission essentially envisioned three independent ways by which a prior conviction will be considered a "crime of violence": (1) the prior conviction is for a crime that is among those specifically enumerated (murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, etc.); (2) the prior conviction is for a crime that, although not specifically enumerated, has as an element of the offense the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force; or (3) the prior conviction is for a crime that, although neither specifically enumerated nor involving physical force as an element of the offense, involves conduct posing a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

Obviously, and consistent with John's argument, it is not only impermissible, but pointless, for the court to look through to the defendant's actual criminal conduct under the first two prongs. All that the court needs to know can be gleaned from the fact of conviction and the charging paper. See United States v. McAllister, 927 F.2d 136, 139 (3d Cir. 1991), discussed infra [Slip Op.] at 14. However, in our view, the third prong quite clearly permits the court to examine the defendant's actual conduct to ascertain whether that conduct posed a sufficient potential risk of physical injury to another to elevate the crime to a "crime of violence."

This insight is not novel. Indeed, we already have interpreted § 4B1.2 as permitting a court to look through to the defendant's underlying conduct in determining whether a prior conviction constitutes a "crime of violence." See United States v. Williams, 892 F.2d 296, 304 (3d Cir. 1989) cert. denied, 496 U.S. 939, 110 L. Ed. 2d 668, 110 S. Ct. 3221 (1990).*fn3 The other courts of appeals to consider the issue are in accord. See United States v. Goodman, 914 F.2d 696, 699 (5th Cir. 1990); United States v. Terry, 900 F.2d 1039, 1041-43 (7th Cir. 1990); United States v. Baskin, 280 U.S. App. D.C. 366, 886 F.2d 383, 389 (D.C. Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1089, 108 L. Ed. 2d 960, 110 S. Ct. 1831 (1990).

John argues that even if this interpretation once may have appeared correct, a different result is now compelled by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 109 L. Ed. 2d 607, 110 S. Ct. 2143 (1990), which was decided after Williams, Terry, and Baskin, and, although preceding Goodman, was not discussed by the Fifth Circuit in that opinion. We disagree. To the contrary, we believe Taylor is fully consistent with these decisions.

Taylor arose under the sentencing enhancement provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), 18 U.S.C.A. § 924(e) (West Supp. 1991). ACCA generally prohibits certain persons, including convicted felons, from transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition. Id. § 922(g). ACCA further provides that any person who violates this prohibition, and who has three previous convictions for a "violent felony or serious drug offense," is subject to a sentencing enhancement requiring a minimum period of incarceration of fifteen years. Id. at § 924(e)(1). For this purpose "violent felony" is defined, nearly identically to "crime of violence" under Guidelines § 4B1.2, as follows:

(B) The term "violent felony" means any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year . . . that --

(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or

(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involved conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

Id. § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

In Taylor, the Court was called upon to interpret this language in relation to a defendant one of whose three predicate convictions for sentencing enhancement purposes had been for second-degree burglary under Missouri law. The government had successfully argued before the Eighth Circuit that "burglary in § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) means burglary however a state chooses to define it, [and thus] the district Court did not err in using Taylor's Missouri convictions for second-degree burglary to enhance his sentence." Taylor, 110 S. Ct. at 2148 (citations omitted). After an exhaustive review of the legislative history, the Supreme Court reversed. The Court concluded that the reference to "burglary" in § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) was not intended by Congress to encompass any crime labelled a "burglary" under state law, but rather only crimes fitting the generic common law definition of "burglary" -- i.e., "any crime, regardless of its exact definition or label, having the basic elements of unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or structure, with intent to commit a crime." Id. at 2158.

Having reached this conclusion, the Court recognized that it was then faced with "the problem of applying this conclusion to cases [such as Taylor's] in which the state statute under which a defendant is convicted varies from the generic definition of 'burglary.'" Id. The Court then framed this "problem" as follows:

We therefore must address the question whether, in the case of a defendant who has been convicted under a nongeneric-burglary statute, the Government may seek enhancement on the grounds that he actually committed a generic burglary.

This question requires us to address a more general issue -- whether the sentencing court in applying § 924(e) must look only to the statutory definitions of the prior offense, or whether the court may consider other evidence concerning the defendant's prior crimes.

Id. at 2159 (footnotes omitted). Thus framed, and in light of the parallel definitions of "crime of violence" and "violent crime" employed in Guidelines § 4B1.2 and 18 U.S.C.A. § 924(e)(2)(B), the Court's inquiry appears at first blush to mirror that before us in the instant dispute.

The Court concluded that, in determining what offenses constitute "burglaries" for enhancement purposes, the sentencing court generally must adopt a formal categorical approach, looking only to the fact of conviction and the statutory definition of the predicate offense, rather than to the particular underlying facts. That approach is required, the Court reasoned, because: (1) when read in context, the phrase "is burglary" in § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), see supra [Slip Op.] at 10, most likely refers to the statutory elements of the offense rather than to the facts of the defendant's conduct; (2) the legislative history itself reveals a general categorical approach to predicate offenses; and (3) an elaborate factfinding process regarding the defendant's prior offenses would be impracticable and unfair. This holding does appear to support John's contention that the Court has rejected a case-by-case inquiry, for sentencing enhancement purposes, into the conduct underlying the defendant's prior convictions.

Such a broad gloss misreads, however, the scope of the Court's holding by ignoring the following critical language:

Our present concern is only to determine what offenses should count as "burglaries" for enhancement purposes. The Government remains free to argue that any offense -- including offenses similar to generic burglary -- should count towards enhancement as one that "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" under § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

Taylor, 110 S. Ct. at 2159 n.9.

In our view, the import and relevance of this language are inescapable. Section 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), like Guidelines § 4B1.2, generally permits three approaches to classifying a prior conviction as a "violent felony" or a "crime of violence." See supra [Slip Op.] at 8. The sum and substance of Taylor is that for purposes of what we have called the first prong -- i.e., crimes specifically enumerated -- the government may not attempt to prove by reference to actual conduct that a prior conviction constitutes a "violent felony" when the crime for which the defendant was convicted does not conform to the generic, common law definition. Hence, the government may not prove by reference to actual conduct that Taylor, having been convicted of "second-degree burglary," actually committed "burglary" in order to satisfy the first prong. In the Court's view, such an approach would circumvent Congress's intent that the correspondence between a defendant's prior conviction and a crime enumerated in § 924(e)(2)(B) be determined solely by reference to their statutory elements. However, as footnote nine plainly states, the government is always free to prove by reference to actual conduct that a prior conviction satisfies the third prong -- to wit, that it "involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another."

We are therefore satisfied that Taylor does not undermine our Williams decision, and indeed supports it. Consistent with Williams and with the law of other circuits, see supra [Slip Op.] at 8-9, we hold that a sentencing court may inquire into the conduct underlying a prior conviction to ascertain whether it "presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another" and thus qualifies as a "crime of violence" under Guidelines § 4B1.2.

This conclusion is unaffected by our recent decision in United States v. McAllister, 927 F.2d 136 (3d Cir. 1991), where we reversed the judgment of sentence of the district court which had declined to treat defendant as a career offender despite his convictions of robbery on the ground that the facts surrounding the convictions were:

"sufficiently ambiguous to the Court that I cannot say that both of those crimes were crimes of violence as those words are used in the guidelines applicable to career offenders."

McAllister, 927 F.2d at 137-38 (quoting district court's remarks at sentencing hearing).

On appeal, we held that where the predicate offense is expressly listed as a crime of violence, as "robbery" is, see Application Note 2 to Guidelines § 4B1.2, supra [Slip Op.] at 7-8, a more detailed inquiry into the facts is inappropriate. Larceny is not so listed. The McAllister panel hastened to add, moreover:

We do not suggest that it will always be possible to take a categorical approach to the determination of whether an underlying offense is a "crime of violence" within guidelines § 4B1.2. It may well be that more detailed inquiry into the facts of a case will be required if the offense is not specifically listed as a "crime of violence" in the application notes to the guidelines. See United States v. Williams, 892 F.2d 296, 303-04 (3d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 939, 110 L. Ed. 2d 668, 110 S. Ct. 3221 (1990). But we are not concerned with that situation and thus we do not address it. Here the robberies were per se crimes of violence and that ends our inquiry. See also United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 911 F.2d 542, 547-48 (11th Cir. 1990); United States v. Brunson, 907 F.2d 117, 120-21 (10th Cir. 1990).

McAllister, 927 F.2d at 139 (emphasis added).

III.

As noted above, the Virgin Islands Code defines grand larceny as "the unlawful taking, . . . [of] the personal property of another . . . of $100.00 or more in value." See V.I. Code Ann. tit. 14, § 1081, 1083 (1964). The definition does not refer to any use or attempted use of violence and thus does not satisfy Guidelines § 4B1.2(1).

In the predicate charge in question, however, the record reflects that the defendant was charged with entering a home with two other individuals and, acting in concert with them, in threatening the occupants with guns and taking cash totalling $40.00, two cameras, and one camera lens. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Keithroy John, Crim. No. 76-147 (D.C. V.I. 1976); Government of the Virgin Islands v. Keithroy John, JDR 157-159/76 (Territorial Ct. V.I.). These facts are admitted.

If we were limited to consideration of the elements of the offense of conviction, we could not treat the grand larceny conviction as a predicate offense for career criminal status.*fn4 However, inasmuch as we have held that we may look to the facts underlying the conviction, and the facts here reveal that the defendant and his confederates entered a house and threatened the occupants with guns in connection with the larceny, there can be no doubt that John's crime of violence was committed. At the least, the finding of the district court to that effect, i.e., that defendant's conduct presented a serious potential risk of physical injury to another under Guidelines § 4B1.2(1)(ii), is entitled to deference. 18 U.S.C.A. § 3742(e) (West Supp. 1991). Therefore, since the defendant was properly treated as a career offender, the judgment of sentence will be affirmed.


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