500 U.S. 344 (1991), 90-5358, Braxton v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 90-5358
Citation:500 U.S. 344, 111 S.Ct. 1854, 114 L.Ed.2d 385, 59 U.S.L.W. 4499
Party Name:Braxton v. United States
Case Date:May 28, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 344

500 U.S. 344 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 1854, 114 L.Ed.2d 385, 59 U.S.L.W. 4499



United States

No. 90-5358

United States Supreme Court

May 28, 1991

Argued March 18, 1991




At a hearing at which petitioner Braxton pleaded guilty to assault and firearm counts, but not guilty to the more serious charge of attempting to kill a United States marshal, the Government presented facts -- to which Braxton agreed -- showing, inter alia, that, after each of two instances in which marshals kicked open his door, Braxton fired a gunshot "through the door opening," and the shots lodged in the door's front. Over Braxton's objections, the District Court later sentenced him as though he had been convicted of the attempt to kill count, relying on a proviso in § 1B1.2(a) of the U.S. Sentencing Comm'n Guidelines Manual. Although § 1B1.2(a) ordinarily requires a court to apply the Sentencing Guideline most applicable to the offense of conviction, the proviso allows the court, in the case of conviction by a guilty plea "containing a stipulation" that "specifically establishes" a more serious offense, to apply the Guideline most applicable to the stipulated offense. The Court of Appeals upheld Braxton's sentence.

Held: The court below misapplied the § 1B1.2(a) proviso. Pp. 346-351.

(a) This Court will not resolve the question whether Braxton's guilty plea "contain[ed] a stipulation" within the proviso's meaning. The Commission -- which was specifically charged by Congress with the duty to review and revise the Guidelines and given the unusual explicit power to decide whether and to what extent its amendments reducing sentences would be given retroactive effect -- has already undertaken a proceeding that will eliminate a conflict among the Federal Circuits over the precise question at issue here. Moreover, the specific controversy before the Court can be decided on other grounds. Pp. 347-349.

(b) Assuming that Braxton's agreement to the Government's facts constituted a "stipulation," that stipulation does not "specifically establis[h]" an attempt to kill, as is required by the proviso. At best, the stipulation supports two reasonable readings -- one that Braxton shot across the room at the marshals when they entered, and one that he shot before they entered to frighten them off. There is nothing in the latter reading from which an intent to kill -- a necessary element of the attempt to kill count -- could even be inferred. Pp. 349-351.

903 F.2d 292 (4th Cir.1990), reversed and remanded.

Page 345

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

At about 7 a.m. on June 10, 1988, four United States marshals arrived at Thomas Braxton's door with a warrant for his arrest. One of the marshals, Deputy Jenkins, knocked. There was no answer, though they could hear someone inside. Thirty minutes later, the officers returned with a key to Braxton's apartment. Jenkins knocked again; and again received no answer. He unlocked the door, only to find it secured with a chain-lock as well -- which he broke by kicking the door open.

[C]ontemporaneous with the door opening, a gunshot was fired through the door opening. The gunshot lodged in the front door just above the doorknob. That's the outside of the front door.

App. 17. The door slammed shut, and the officers withdrew. A moment later, Jenkins again kicked the door open. Another shot was fired, this too lodging in the front of the door, about five feet from the floor. The officers again withdrew, and the area was barricaded. Braxton, who had fired the shots, eventually gave himself up, and was charged in a three-count indictment with (1) an attempt to kill a deputy United States marshal (18 U.S.C. § 1114), (2) assault on a deputy...

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