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United States v. Briggs

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

March 7, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TYRONE BRIGGS Criminal Action No. 96-336-1

MEMORANDUM

Juan R. Sánchez, J.

Petitioner Tyrone Briggs asks this Court to vacate his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Briggs argues that the United States Sentencing Guidelines were incorrectly applied to his sentence for various charges including carjacking and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Specifically, he asserts: (1) a five-level weapons enhancement for one of the carjacking counts was improper double counting, (2) the one-level enhancements for the values of the cars involved in the attempted carjackings were inappropriate, and (3) the two-level enhancements because the offenses involved carjacking were improper double counting. Because the record conclusively shows Briggs is not entitled to relief on any of these claims, his motion will be denied without an evidentiary hearing. See United States v. McCoy, 410 F.3d 124, 134 (3d Cir. 2005) (explaining no hearing is required if the record clearly resolves the merits of the § 2255 motion).

FACTS

On August 1, 1996, a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania returned a seven count indictment charging defendant Tyrone Briggs and two codefendants with numerous offenses resulting from three carjackings that took place within a week of each other. Briggs was charged with conspiracy to commit carjacking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count One); carjacking and/or attempted carjacking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2119 (Counts Two, Four, and Six); and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Counts Three and Seven). The firearms charge in Count Three resulted from the carjacking charged in Count Two, and the firearms charge in Count Seven resulted from the carjacking charged in Count Six. The attempted carjacking in Count Four was not linked to any firearms charges. On November 15, 1996, Briggs was convicted on all counts.

Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Office completed a presentence report (PSR) for Briggs. In calculating the sentencing guideline for the Count Four attempted carjacking, the probation officer, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(2)(C) (1997), [1] adjusted Briggs’s offense level up five levels because Briggs’s coconspirator, Tevin Lewis, brandished a firearm during the commission of the offense.[2] The probation officer applied this five-level enhancement to Count Four only. Briggs received two one-level sentencing enhancements for the carjackings in Counts Four and Six, pursuant to § 2B3.1(b)(6) of the 1996 Sentencing Guidelines Manual, due to the value of the cars involved in the offense. Briggs also received two level carjacking enhancements for each count of carjacking (Counts Two, Four, Six) pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(1)(B).

The probation officer determined Briggs fell within criminal history category IV and had a total offense level of 30. As a result, Briggs was subject to between 135 and 168 months imprisonment on Counts One, Two, Four, and Six, plus an additional consecutive 300 months imprisonment on the two § 924(c) firearms violations in Counts Three and Seven.

On March 7, 1997, Briggs was sentenced to 449 months imprisonment. His sentence consisted of 149 months on the carjacking counts (Counts Two, Four, and Six) and 60 months on the conspiracy count (Count One), which was to run concurrently with the 149-month sentence. He was also sentenced to a total of 300 months for the firearms charges (Counts Three and Seven), to be served consecutive to the 149-month carjacking sentence. See Judgment as to Tyrone Briggs, United States v. Briggs, No. 96-336 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 7, 1997). Briggs’s conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. United States v. Briggs, 135 F.3d 767 (3d Cir. 1997).

On March 5, 2007, Briggs filed a petition for relief from his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, on the grounds that his sentence was improper and unconstitutional.[3]

DISCUSSION

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner in federal custody may seek to have his sentence vacated, set aside, or corrected if it was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack. Relief may be granted only if an error of law or fact occurred, and such error constitutes “a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Eakman, 378 F.3d 294, 298 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Hill v. United States, 368 U.S. 424, 428 (1962)).

Briggs argues the total offense level calculated by the Court was too high as the result of three separate miscalculations. First, he asserts that the five-level firearm increase he received pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(2)(c) was unconstitutional as a result of Amendment 599, U.S.S.G. Supplement to App. C, at 66 (2000), which went into effect on November 1, 2000, and was made retroactive pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10. See United States v. Willis, 467 F. App’x 111, 112 n.1 (3d Cir. 2012). The purpose of Amendment 599 is to “clarify under what circumstances defendants sentenced for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) in conjunction with convictions for other offenses may receive weapons enhancements contained in the guidelines for those other offenses.” U.S.S.G. Supplement to App. C, at 69. Specifically, “the amendment directs that no guideline weapon enhancement should be applied when determining the sentence for the crime of violence . . . underlying the 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) conviction.” Id. However, the weapon enhancements may be applied “when determining the sentence for counts of conviction outside the scope of relevant conduct for the underlying offense.” Id.

Here, the five-level enhancement was applied because Briggs’s coconspirator brandished a firearm during the carjacking charged in Count Four. A court may enhance a defendant’s sentence for his coconspirator’s use of a firearm that did not form the basis of the defendant’s separate firearm conviction. See, e.g., United States v. Pringle, 350 F.3d 1172, 1181 (11th Cir. 2003). Briggs’s use of a firearm during the carjackings in Counts Two and Six did not trigger an enhancement because those counts were paired with 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) violations. The underlying offense that received the enhancement-the carjacking charged in Count Four-was different then offenses that formed the basis of Briggs’s 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) convictions. Because the Court applied the firearms enhancement solely to the Count Four carjacking and Amendment 599 only prohibits the enhancement for crimes of violence underlying 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) convictions, Briggs’s five-level increase for weapons enhancement was proper.[4]

Second, Briggs contends he should not have received the one-level sentencing enhancements for the carjackings in Counts Four and Six, pursuant to ' 2B3.1(b)(6) of the 1996 Sentencing Guidelines Manual, due to the value of the cars involved in the offense.[5] He argues the guideline only applies to actual loss; here, there was no actual loss because his attempted carjackings were unsuccessful. Alternatively, he asserts because the guideline applies to intended loss, it should not apply to him since the Government did not explicitly produce evidence at trial that he had a specific intent to cause the victims a loss in excess of $10, 000.

First, Briggs’s actual loss argument is meritless. Briggs was sentenced on March 7, 1997, in accordance with the sentencing guidelines that went into effect on November 1, 1995. Guideline § 2B3.1(b)(6), the robbery guideline, provided for the offense level to increase “if the loss exceeded $10, 000, ” and subsection (B) provided an increase of one level if the loss is more than $10, 000, but less than $50, 000. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(6)(B) (1995). The commentary instructed “valuation of loss is discussed in the Commentary to § 2B1.1, ” which covered theft crimes. Id. U.S.S.G. ' 2B3.1, comment. n.3. For the offenses at issue, Briggs was convicted of attempted carjacking. In considering attempts, the notes to § 2B1.1 stated, “[i]n the case of a partially completed offense . . . the offense level is to be determined in accordance with the provisions of § 2X1.1 (Attempt, Solicitation, or Conspiracy).” U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1, comment. n.2 (1995). Under § 2X1.1, the base offense level was the same for attempt as the base offense level “for the substantive offense, plus any adjustments from such guidelines for any intended offense conduct that can be established with reasonable certainty.” U.S.S.G. § 2X1.1(a) (1995). A three-level decrease was permitted for an attempt crime unless “the circumstances demonstrate that the defendant was about to complete all such acts but for apprehension or interruption by some similar event beyond the defendant’s control.” Id. Application note 1 to § 2X1.1 observed that certain attempts are expressly covered by other offense guidelines and cited a number of such guidelines. The guideline for carjacking, U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a) was not mentioned. See U.S.S.G. § 2X1.1, comment. n.1 (1995). Thus, the base offense level for carjacking applied to Counts Four and Six, plus any enhancements from intended offense conduct established with reasonable certainty.

For the Count Four offense, Briggs and his coconspirators approached a 1996 Nissan Altima occupied by Anthony Mayer and passenger Richard Laughlin and parked in a gas station parking lot. Briggs’s codefendant, Tevin Lewis, pulled out a handgun and placed it on Laughlin’s shoulder. Mayer then put the Nissan in reverse, but Lewis chambered a round and pointed the gun at Laughlin’s neck, stating “you move another inch and I’ll cap your boy.” Mayer then floored the accelerator and fled. For the Count Six offense, Briggs and his coconspirators approached a Dodge Intrepid in a Budget Rent-A-Car parking lot. A security guard was inside the car, and Lewis moved toward the driver’s side and fired a shot at the security guard’s head. Lewis then ordered the security guard out of the car, at which point the guard slammed on the accelerator and sped away. It is reasonably certain that, but for the acts of the victims leaving the scenes in the respective cars, Lewis and Briggs would have obtained possession of cars each valued at over $10, 000. Because Lewis and Briggs completed all of the necessary acts to carjack the Nissan Altima and the Dodge Intrepid, they were sentenced as if the carjackings were successful, and the loss enhancement for the values of the cars was appropriate.

Briggs also argues the Government did not prove he intended to take a vehicle of a certain value. At the time of sentencing, one of the leading Third Circuit cases on loss was United States v. Kopp, in which the Court explained that intended loss refers to the defendant’s subjective expectations. See 951 F.2d 521, 529-31 (3d Cir.1991). The Court explained “in a theft case, the thief intends to steal whatever he or she takes; the amount taken is the loss the defendant intended to inflict (even though the defendant may not have known exactly the value on the market or to the victim of the things taken).” Id. at 530-31. Because Briggs was convicted for attempted carjacking and it is clear he intended to take both the Nissan Altima and the Dodge Intrepid, then he intended to inflict the loss of the actual values of the cars, whether or not he knew the values of the cars.[6] Thus, the one-level enhancements for the values of the vehicles were properly applied.[7]

Finally, Briggs argues that his two level carjacking enhancement for Counts Two, Four, Six, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(1)(B), was improper double counting because carjacking formed the basis for his underlying conviction. In November 1993, § 2B3.1, the robbery guideline, was amended to include a specific reference to carjacking, a crime that had been added to the criminal code a year earlier. The statutory provisions section of the commentary to § 2B3.1 included 18 U.S.C. § 2119, the carjacking statute under which Briggs was convicted, as one of the statutory provisions to which § 2B3.1 applied. See U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1, statutory provisions (1993). The Guideline were also amended to state if “the offense involved carjacking, increase by 2 levels.” U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(b)(1)(B) (1993). Briggs argues that applying the enhancement to the substantive offense of carjacking is impermissible double counting because, based on the fact the Sentencing Committee used the word “involved” as opposed to the word “was” or “is, ” in order to apply this two-level enhancement, the separate substantive offense must be something other than carjacking. In his case, the robbery was the carjacking, and thus this substantive offense cannot also serve as the ground for enhancement.

The Sentencing Guidelines specify when double counting is forbidden and explicitly identify which enhancements may not be applied. United States v. Wong, 3 F.3d 667, 670 (3d Cir. 1993). Therefore, “[a]n adjustment that clearly applies to the conduct of an offense must be imposed unless the Guidelines exclude its applicability.” Id. at 671; cf. Id . (“[O]nly when the Guidelines explicitly prohibit double counting will it be impermissible to raise a defendant’s offense level under one provision when another offense Guideline already takes into account the same conduct.”). In this case, there is no prohibition to applying the two-level enhancement to a carjacking offense. Through the amendments to U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1, it is clear that “the Sentencing Commission intended to apply the two point enhancement to the base robbery offense level of 20 for convictions under § 2119, the carjacking statute.” United States v. Naves, 252 F.3d 1166, 1168 (11th Cir. 2001); see United States v. Cleveland, 413 F. App’x 445, 448 (3d Cir. 2011) (acknowledging the two-level enhancement to the base offense level for a carjacking conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2119); United States v. Mershon, 322 F. App’x 232, 234 (3d Cir. 2009) (same); United States v. Wilson, 198 F.3d 467, 471 (4th Cir. 1999) (same); see also United States v. Cummings, 105 F.3d 654 (5th Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (holding the district court did not err when it increased the defendant’s base offense level for carjacking by two-levels pursuant to § 2B3.1(b)(1)(B)); United States v. Fuentes-Vazquez, 52 F.3d 394, 398 (1st Cir. 1995) (mentioning the amendment to the robbery guideline and the application of the two-level enhancement to the defendant’s carjacking conviction). Otherwise, a defendant convicted of robbery involving a carjacking would have a base offense level of 22, but a defendant convicted of carjacking, which is categorized as a robbery offense in the Guidelines, would have a base offense level of only 20. Therefore, the two-level sentencing enhancement for carjacking was proper. Accordingly, Briggs’s sentence was calculated correctly, and his petition will be denied.[8]

An appropriate order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 7th day of March, 2014, for the reasons set forth in the accompanying Memorandum, it is ORDERED Petitioner Tyrone Briggs’s Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Document 188) is DENIED. There has been no substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right warranting the issuance of a certificate of appealability. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to mark both cases CLOSED.


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