U.S. v. Handy

Decision Date04 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-CR-906.,07-CR-906.
Citation570 F.Supp.2d 437
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Ramel HANDY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

Benton J. Campbell, United States Attorney by Brian Meagher, Assistant United States Attorney, for United States of America.

Federal Defenders of New York, Inc. by Michael K. Schneider, for Defendant Ramel Handy.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

JACK B. WEINSTEIN, Senior District Judge.

                Table of Contents
                I.  Introduction ....................................................... 439
                II.  Facts ............................................................. 440
                     A. Crime .......................................................... 440
                     B. Presentence Report Guideline Calculations....................... 441
                     C. Sentencing Hearings ............................................ 441
                III. Sentencing Guidelines ............................................. 443
                     A. Pre-Booker ..................................................... 443
                
                     B. Post-Booker .................................................... 447
                     C. Correct Calculation of the Guidelines Required ................. 451
                IV. Enhancement for Stolen Gun ......................................... 452
                    A. Guideline ....................................................... 452
                    B. Appellate Review ................................................ 453
                    1. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ......................... 453
                    2. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit .......................... 454
                    3. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit .......................... 458
                    4. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Tenth
                         Eleventh, and District of Columbia Circuits ................... 460
                    C. Reconsideration Under the Sixth Amendment Line of Cases ......... 461
                       1. Developing Sixth Amendment Defendants Protections in
                            Sentencing ................................................. 461
                       2. Loss of Force in Enhancement Precedents ...................... 464
                    D. Invalidity ...................................................... 464
                       1. General Problems in Reviewing the Sentencing Commissions
                            Determinations ............................................. 464
                          a. Administrative Law Framework .............................. 464
                          b. Review of Commentary ...................................... 466
                          c. Departure from the Guidelines ............................. 470
                       2. Commentary to U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(b)(4) Violating Enabling Statute  470
                          a. Standard of Review ........................................ 470
                          b. Enhancement Violates Requirement of Knowledge that Firearm
                               was Stolen .............................................. 474
                               i. Statute Requiring Mens Rea ........................... 474
                              ii. Historical Importance and Constitutional Requirement of
                                    Mens Rea ........................................... 475
                             iii. Analysis ............................................. 478
                V. Conclusion .......................................................... 480
                
I. Introduction

The powers of a democratic constitutional government such as ours to punish people must be exercised rationally. Arbitrary and capricious punishment is not acceptable. See generally Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972). The requirement of mens rea is a central organizing principle and requirement of our criminal law. The United States Sentencing Commission is bound by these fundamental rules.

The problem now posed is: whether the Commentary to the United States Sentencing Guidelines—designed to be followed by sentencing courts—may provide for enhanced punishment of a felon in possession of a stolen handgun if the criminal does not know that it was stolen? The answer is: such a rule, devoid of any mens rea connection, is irrational, is inconsistent with the Constitution and criminal laws of the United States, and is void.

To add many months of incarceration for possession of a gun because the gun was stolen, when the defendant did not and could not know it was stolen, is to punish by lottery. Haphazard chance is not a guiding spirit of our rule of law. Nor is the present method of adopting, reviewing and applying Commentaries such as the one now in question satisfactory as a matter of administrative law. See infra section IV.D.1.b.; cf. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2071-2077 (methods of adoption for rules of courts with public and congressional participation).

This court's present ruling is contrary to courts of appeals decisions in this and other circuits. Nevertheless, in sentencing the Supreme Court has recognized the primacy of the district court's responsibility. Nisi prius power includes the obligation to declare invalid a Guideline or Sentencing Commission Commentary interpreting the Guideline if it is void for unconstitutionality or if it exceeds the Commission's power to adopt it.

The federal statute defendant here pled guilty to criminalizes possession of firearms by convicted felons. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The Sentencing Commission mandates a two-level enhancement to the offense level of a defendant charged with this offense if the firearm was stolen. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual ("U.S.S.G.") § 2K2.1(b)(4). Pursuant to the Guideline Commentary, defendant's lack of knowledge that the firearm was stolen is irrelevant; strict liability applies. See U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1 cmt. n. 8(B).

Sentencing judges must give the same weight to this Commentary as they give to the Guidelines themselves. See United States v. LaBonte, 520 U.S. 751, 117 S.Ct. 1673, 137 L.Ed.2d 1001 (1997); U.S.S.G. § 1B1.7. The fact that the Guidelines no longer mandatorily control the sentence has not eliminated them as a critical factor that must be considered in fashioning a sentence. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(4)(A); United States v. Sanchez, 517 F.3d 651, 661 (2d Cir.2008). If a Commentary is invalid it must be stricken in the same way as would be an invalid Guideline. La-Bonte, 520 U.S. at 753, 117 S.Ct. 1673.

In the present case the enhancement Commentary for a stolen gun, not known to have been stolen by defendant, would change the Guidelines range applicable to this defendant from 37 to 46 months to 46 to 57 months. That enhancement represents a 24.3% increase in the bottom and a 23.9% increase in the top end of the applicable Guideline range. Imposition of such an enhancement predicated upon an irrational finding by the Commission would be illegal.

The arbitrary and capricious nature of the Commission's exclusion of mens rea from its two-level enhancement is particularly egregious since it violates congressional policy. In contrast to the Commission's rule, an analogous federal statute criminalizes possession of a stolen firearm only if the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the firearm was stolen. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). The two-level Guidelines enhancement obviously cannot apply to a conviction under this statute. See U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1 cmt. n. 8(A). It applies to this defendant under the Guidelines because, anomalously, he was convicted under another section dealing with possession of a firearm—18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)—that contains no element relating to the thievery of the weapon. Deemed irrelevant under the Commentary is the fact that this defendant did not know and had no reasonable cause to believe that the firearm he possessed was stolen.

The same due process requirement for legislative enactments that conduct without culpable mens rea cannot be criminalized except for minor strict liability crimes, is applicable to the work of the Sentencing Commission. Consistent with fundamental legal tradition that blameworthiness hinges upon a culpable state of mind, the defendant's Guideline calculation must be predicated upon culpability. See, e.g., United States v. Polizzi, 549 F.Supp.2d 308, 349-53 (E.D.N.Y.2008) (citing authorities on mens rea); United States v. Cordoba-Hincapie, 825 F.Supp. 485, 489-527 (E.D.N.Y.1993) (same). Thus, the Commentary to section 2K2.1(b)(4) of the Sentencing Guidelines is invalid.

II. Facts
A. Crime

On November 30, 2007 when Ramel Handy was twenty years old, having spent the better part of his adolescence in prison, he was observed by two uniformed police officers. See Presentence Report dated Apr. 7, 2008 ("PSR") ¶ 2. He and another individual were standing on a pedestrian pathway at a public housing complex in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Id. Handy adjusted an object concealed in the rear waistband of his pants. Id. He was approached by the officers and asked for identification. Id. Responding that he had none, he was told that he would be subjected to a "patdown" search for weapons. Id. He ran from the officers through the housing complex, tossing a loaded pistol onto a grassy area on the sidewalk as he went. Id. He was captured immediately and placed under arrest. Id. ¶¶ 2-3.

In post-arrest statements he admitted that he "took" the gun from an acquaintance earlier in the day. Id. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF") determined that the firearm, a Hi-Point nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol, was manufactured outside of New York State and had been reported stolen in Fulton County, Georgia in 2006. Id. ¶ 1 (type of firearm); id. ¶ 4 (place of manufacture); id. ¶ 5 (reported stolen in Georgia).

On February 14, 2008, Handy pled guilty to a single-count indictment charging him with possession of a firearm after having previously been convicted of a felony. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). As already noted, this statute does not incorporate the element of the firearm having been stolen.

B. Presentence Report Guideline Calculations

The probation department calculated the base offense level at twenty. PSR ¶ 9; see also U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) (...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 cases
  • U.S. v. Thomas, Docket No. 09-4335-cr
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 16, 2010
    ...sentencing enhancement contain a scienter requirement" (internal citation omitted)). Primarily relying on United States v. Handy, 570 F.Supp.2d 437 (E.D.N.Y.2008) (Weinstein, J.), Thomas argues that the "sea change" in sentencing law promulgated by the Supreme Court beginning with Apprendi ......
  • United States v. Faison
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • February 18, 2020
    ...In United States v. Handy, the court held the enhancement without a scienter requirement to be invalid and unconstitutional. 570 F. Supp. 2d 437, 480 (E.D.N.Y. 2008). The court reasoned that the lack of a scienter requirement was contrary to a closely related statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(j), wh......
  • United States v. Prien-Pinto
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • March 12, 2019
    ...and compels a re-evaluation of Goodell . He relies on a lone opinion from the Eastern District of New York, United States v. Handy , 570 F.Supp.2d 437 (E.D.N.Y. 2008), the logic of which has been rejected by the Second, Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits.1 See United States v. Thomas , 628......
  • United States v. Fields
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • April 30, 2015
    ...and (2) he had no knowledge the firearm had an obliterated serial number. Relying on a district court decision, United States v. Handy, 570 F. Supp.2d 437 (E.D.N.Y. 2008), Fields argues § 2K2.1(b)(4)(B) should be deemed unconstitutional, since it allows a defendant's sentence to be increase......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT