United States v. Karas, 110419 FED6, 18-3459

Docket Nº:18-3459
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. TAYLOR KARAS, 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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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

TAYLOR KARAS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 18-3459

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

November 4, 2019

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION

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

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

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, 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 § 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...

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