793 Fed.Appx. 380 (6th Cir. 2019), 18-3459, United States v. Karas

Docket Nº:18-3459
Citation:793 Fed.Appx. 380
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Taylor KARAS, Defendant-Appellant.
Attorney:Brent G. Tabacchi, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Dayton, OH, for Plaintiff - Appellee James A. Jenkins, Law Office, Cleveland, OH, for Defendant - Appellant
Judge Panel:BEFORE: SILER, GIBBONS, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:November 04, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 380

793 Fed.Appx. 380 (6th Cir. 2019)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Taylor KARAS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 18-3459

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 4, 2019

UNPUBLISHED

Editorial Note:

Please Refer Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 32.1. See also U.S.Ct. of App. 6th Cir. Rule 32.1.

Page 381

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO

Brent G. Tabacchi, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Dayton, OH, for Plaintiff - Appellee

James A. Jenkins, Law Office, Cleveland, OH, for Defendant - Appellant

BEFORE: SILER, GIBBONS, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

Twenty-five-year-old Taylor Karas, with her co-defendants, kidnapped and robbed a seventy-nine-year-old man in Ohio. After Karas lured the victim to her hotel room, her co-defendants arrived at the hotel, armed. Using the victim’s car, the defendants drove the victim to an ATM and multiple stores, used the victim’s credit card to make purchases, and ultimately abandoned him at a store in Indiana. Karas was charged with and convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to forty-two months’ incarceration, well below the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines ("Guidelines" or "U.S.S.G.") range.

Karas now appeals her sentence, arguing that it is procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Because the district court properly calculated the Guidelines range and did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant Karas’s request for a two-level minor role reduction, we find that the sentence is procedurally reasonable. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, we find that the sentence is substantively reasonable. Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

Twenty-five-year old Taylor Karas and her then-boyfriend, James Marriott,

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agreed to rob a seventy-nine-year-old man, identified as J.P. Karas had previously dated J.P.’s grandson and had borrowed money from J.P. in the past. On October 6, 2016, Karas texted J.P. and asked to borrow money. J.P., expecting a sexual encounter in return, agreed and suggested they meet at a local restaurant. After Karas asked that they meet at the Super 8 Motel in Vandalia, Ohio, J.P. drove to the motel, parked his Ford Explorer in the lot, and entered Karas’s room.

Shortly thereafter, Karas texted Marriott that J.P. had arrived. Marriott, brandishing a gun, burst into the room, along with a second man, Andrew Azzalina. Marriott and Azzalina searched J.P. and took approximately $300 and his phone. Marriott also took J.P.’s credit and debit cards and demanded that J.P. tell him his personal identification number ("PIN"). When J.P. said he could not remember his PIN, Marriott cocked his gun and threatened to kill J.P., calling him a liar.

Despite not knowing the PIN, Marriot decided to take J.P. to an ATM to withdraw money. Marriott, Azzalina, and Karas found the keys to J.P.’s car and forced J.P. into the front seat. With Karas and Marriott in the back seat, Azzalina drove to a bank in Englewood, Ohio. When J.P. repeated that he could not remember his PIN, Marriott inserted the card into the ATM and threatened to kill him while Karas attempted to guess the PIN.

Unable to withdraw money, Marriott, Azzalina, and Karas transported J.P. to a Dollar General in Lewisburg, Ohio. While Marriott and Karas went inside to purchase a cell phone and a box of Honey Buns, totaling $97, with J.P.’s credit card, Azzalina remained in the car with J.P.

Azzalina then drove to the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Richmond, Indiana, crossing state lines. Again, Marriott and Karas went into the store while Azzalina held J.P. in the car. Marriott and Karas attempted to charge $1,400 worth of merchandise to J.P.’s credit card. The store clerk requested to see the credit card holder’s driver’s license to complete the purchase, so Marriott called Azzalina to bring J.P. into the store. J.P. signed for the purchase and, at some point during the transaction, mouthed "call the police" to the store clerk. Fearing that J.P. had successfully requested help from the store clerk, Karas and Marriott fled the store, leaving J.P. behind. Karas, Marriott, and Azzalina then drove J.P.’s car back to Ohio.

Police arrested Marriott and Azzalina a few days later. Karas turned herself in on October 20, 2016. As relevant here, a federal grand jury indicted Karas on October 27, 2016 for aiding and abetting a kidnapping.1 Karas pled guilty to kidnapping on January 20, 2017.2

The Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report ("PSR") recommending a Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months’ incarceration. Applying Guidelines § 2A4.1 for kidnapping, the PSR established that Karas had a base offense level of 32. The PSR also found two separate two-level enhancements applicable. One two-level enhancement was for the use of a dangerous weapon, pursuant to Guidelines

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§ 2A4.1(b)(3). The second enhancement was a victim-related adjustment applicable when the defendant knew or should have known that the offense involved a vulnerable victim. The PSR did not adjust for Karas’s role in the offense because she was not the organizer of the criminal activity; nor was she a "minor participant" due to her "significant role" in the criminal activity. Finally, applying a three-level downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility, the PSR calculated a total offense level of 33. The PSR also determined that Karas was within criminal history category II because of prior, relatively minor drug- and alcohol-related charges. With the adjusted offense level of 33 and the criminal history category of II, the Guidelines sentence range was 151 to 188 months. The PSR recommended a downward departure to a sentence of seventy-two months under the § 3553(a) factors, based in part on Karas’s commitment to a drug addiction treatment program.

At the request of both parties, Karas’s sentencing hearing was continued for over a year and she remained out on bond during this time. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the parties submitted supplemental memoranda detailing the aggravating and mitigating factors related to Karas’s sentencing. Karas submitted two sentencing memoranda to the district court.

In the first memo, filed in August 2017, Karas argued that a reduced sentence was warranted because: (1) she acted under duress because Marriott was so controlling; (2) she was under the influence of opiates; (3) she had previously been the victim of an attempted kidnapping; (4) the victim had provoked the offense; (5) she had a history of sexual abuse and addiction; and (6) she was experiencing anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Without directly linking her argument to the facts of this case, she also discussed research showing that community-based treatment programs were more effective in decreasing recidivism than prison-based programs. As to the Guidelines role reduction, she contended that she had "a limited, though not minor role, in the offense" and asked the court "to permit the fully allowable reduction based upon her minimal role." DE 85, Sealed Def.’s Sentencing Mem., Page ID 414. She made no other mention of the Guidelines’ minor role provision in her memorandum and did not dispute the PSR’s finding that her conduct did not warrant a minor role downward adjustment.

In a supplemental memorandum filed in March 2018, Karas argued that her "post-conviction rehabilitation" warranted "a further departure from the U.S. Probation Officer’s adjustment." DE 109, Sealed Def.’s Supp. Sentencing Mem., Page ID 512-513. She noted that she had completed in-patient drug treatment and had remained in recovery, excluding a relapse in December 2016. She also contended that a departure was warranted because she had worked at Red Lobster since September 2017, received good performance reviews, and been enrolled in community college, working toward an associate degree in counseling, since January 2017. Karas also argued in the supplemental memo that her conduct was aberrant. She explained this "misadventure" occurred and "circumstances got out of control" because of her fear of and loyalty to Marriott. Id. at 515. She further argued that she had diligently continued to work and attend school despite a pregnancy "end[ing] during its second trimester in December 2017" and subsequent medical treatment. Id. at 513-14.

In a motion for substantial assistance filed in May 2017 (following the close of Marriott’s trial), the government requested that the court grant a downward departure

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from the Guidelines for Karas’s cooperation against Marriott.

The government also filed a sentencing memorandum in May 2017, urging the district court to impose a term of imprisonment upon Karas but "not the lengthy sentence that the advisory Guidelines suggest." DE 119, Gov’t Sentencing Mem., Page ID 556. The government noted that Karas had serious addiction issues, as indicated by her history of drug- and alcohol-related misdemeanor convictions, and that these issues contributed to her involvement in the kidnapping. While her generally positive performance on bond hinted that she could become a better person, the government explained, the high risk of her becoming unwilling or unable to deal with these issues in the future would "unquestionably" lead her to reoffend. Id. at 557. The government contended that the risk of recidivism posed a danger to the community and her son. Although Karas played an "integral role," the government found that some downward departure was warranted because Karas’s involvement and criminal history were less troubling than those of her co-defendants. Id. at 557-58.

The district court held...

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