United States v. Legins

Decision Date11 May 2022
Docket Number20-4390
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. Chikosi LEGINS, Defendant - Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Charles A. Gavin, CAWTHORN, DESKEVICH & GAVIN, P.C., Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant. Christopher Chen-Hsin Wang, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Gregory B. Friel, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Tovah R. Calderon, Appellate Section, Civil Rights Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before DIAZ and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges, and FLOYD, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Richardson wrote the opinion, in which Judge Diaz and Senior Judge Floyd joined.

RICHARDSON, Circuit Judge:

Former federal prison guard Chikosi Legins was indicted for sexually assaulting a prisoner twice and then lying to law enforcement about it. A jury convicted Legins only of making a false statement to law enforcement while acquitting him of the more substantial sex-crime charges. Following that verdict, the district court made two decisions that boosted Legins's sentence. First, it imposed an enhanced statutory maximum that was neither charged nor submitted to the jury. Second, it varied upward to impose the sentence Legins would have faced if he had been convicted of sexually abusing the prisoner.

On appeal, Legins challenges his false-statements conviction. We reject that challenge. Sufficient evidence supported that conviction, and any arguable inconsistency with the jury's acquittal on other counts does not invalidate the false-statement conviction. Legins next argues that the judge improperly imposed an enhanced statutory maximum penalty based on a judicial finding not in the indictment or found by the jury. See Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466, 490, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000). We agree but are constrained to find the error harmless. See Washington v. Recuenco , 548 U.S. 212, 219–20, 126 S.Ct. 2546, 165 L.Ed.2d 466 (2006) ; Neder v. United States , 527 U.S. 1, 4, 119 S.Ct. 1827, 144 L.Ed.2d 35 (1999). Finally, we conclude that the court did not impose an unreasonable sentence.

I. Background
A. Alleged Sexual Assaults

In May 2018, B.L., then a prisoner at Petersburg Federal Correctional Institution, was hanging flyers around the prison to inform inmates of upcoming events. Legins, then a prison guard, escorted B.L. as he travelled from unit to unit to distribute the flyers. At 6:10 PM, a surveillance video shows the two men entering a camera-free staff corridor, along which was a similarly camera-free administrative office. At 6:15 PM, the video shows them emerging from the other side of the corridor. They offer wildly different accounts of the intervening 5 minutes.

That evening, B.L. reported to prison lieutenant Steven Arrant that he had been raped. After medical evaluation, B.L. prepared an affidavit describing his assault during those 5 minutes. According to B.L., Legins forced him to perform oral sex on him, and then anally raped him. Legins then ejaculated in his own hand and instructed B.L. to clean up.

And according to B.L., this was not the first time Legins sexually assaulted him. Two months earlier, Legins was similarly escorting B.L. as B.L. hung flyers. While in an elevator alone, Legins allegedly pushed B.L. to his knees and instructed B.L. to perform oral sex on him, and B.L. did so. B.L. did not report this incident until after the May assault. He had, however, placed the sweatshirt he wore at the time, on which Legins had allegedly ejaculated, into a plastic bag.1

After completing his affidavit describing the assault, B.L. was taken to a local hospital, where a rape kit test was performed. The results were mixed. No physical indicia of forcible rape were found. But experts for both the prosecution and defense agreed that physical injuries are often not found. The exam did reveal toilet paper on B.L.'s anus, which the defense expert claimed would be unusual if the assault occurred as B.L. described. But Legins's DNA was found on a swab of B.L.'s anus, on B.L.'s jock strap, and on the sweatshirt B.L. kept from the March assault.

As all of this was going on, Legins began acting suspiciously. Before B.L. was taken to the hospital, Legins called the medical bay seeking medicine (which he had never done and was not authorized to do) and made repeated calls to both the medical bay and the lieutenant's office seeking B.L.'s whereabouts (despite having no official reason to do so). When B.L. was leaving the medical bay, the escorting officer heard someone he believed to be Legins shout "You've got to be kidding me!" A few days later, Legins asked a fellow guard to write a statement saying that Legins was only alone with B.L. for a minute, but the guard refused because he had no personal knowledge of the events of that day.

Legins tells a very different story of what happened during those 5 minutes in May. In June 2018, he was interviewed by the FBI and the Office of Inspector General, placed under oath, and informed that false statements could be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1001. In the interview, Legins acknowledged taking B.L. into the secretary's office—which was unusual and against protocol—but denied any sexual activity. He claimed that he engaged in "just conversation" with B.L. while he unsuccessfully tried to log onto the computer to print documents.2 Legins also claimed that he has never had any sexual contact with an inmate at Petersburg. When asked how he would explain the presence of his DNA were it to be found, Legins recalled that he had masturbated in the restroom located next to the secretary's office the day before the alleged sexual assault. Following the interview, Legins began repeating the masturbation story to his colleagues, adding a new detail: He had seen B.L. and another inmate unattended in that bathroom afterward, but did not report it even though they were in a restricted, guards-only area.

B. District Court Proceedings

Legins was charged with sexual abuse of a ward3 for the March incident. For the May incident, he was also charged with sexual abuse of a ward, aggravated sexual abuse,4 and deprivation of civil rights.5 In a final count, Legins was charged with making false statements6 during his interview. The language of this false-statement count—the focus of this appeal—is as follows:

On or about June 5, 2018, in the Eastern District of Virginia, the defendant, CHIKOSI LEGINS, knowingly and willfully made false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations to Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General as to material facts in relation [to] a matter within the jurisdiction of the FBI and DOJ, agencies of the United States. Specifically, the defendant, CHIKOSI LEGINS: (1) falsely denied that he engaged in a sexual act with any inmate at any time at Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg; and (2) falsely stated that on May 10, 2018, he attempted to use a computer and printer while he was engaged in "just conversation" with inmate B.L. when they were alone in an unattended office with no surveillance cameras. Those statements and representations by CHIKOSI LEGINS were false, because as CHIKOSI LEGINS then well knew, he had engaged in a sexual act with an inmate at Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg; and on May 10, 2018, the defendant used an unattended office with no surveillance cameras to engage in a sexual act with B.L.

During his arraignment, the government stated that the maximum sentence on the false-statement charge was 5 years. Legins pleaded not guilty and went to trial by jury. At trial, the jury was presented with a verdict form that asked whether Legins was guilty "as charged in [the false-statement count] of the Indictment," and asked it to note "which—or both—of [the two alleged false statements] supports [its] guilty verdict." J.A. 820.

The jury convicted Legins on the false-statement count. In finding him guilty of that count, the jury found that both statements presented in the Indictment supported the verdict—that is, both lying about "engag[ing] in a sexual act with any inmate" and lying about using a computer and printer while "engaged in ‘just conversation’ " with B.L. in the office. J.A. 820. But the jury acquitted Legins on all other counts, even though they involved the commission of the sexual acts that the jury found Legins lied about.

After denying Legins's motion for acquittal notwithstanding the verdict, the district court observed that the false-statement count justified an enhanced 8-year maximum sentence—not the standard 5-year maximum—because Legins's statement involved a sexual crime that is an "offense under Chapter 109A" of the criminal code. Legins objected to the increased statutory maximum sentence under Apprendi7 and argued that the "misstatement" of the 5-year maximum sentence during arraignment also prejudiced him. The court disagreed and applied the 8-year statutory maximum. The increased statutory maximum also increased Legins's guideline offense level by 4 levels to 18. See U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(b)(1)(A) ("If the (i) defendant was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 ; and (ii) statutory maximum term of eight years' imprisonment applies because the matter relates to ... chapter[ ] 109A ... increase by 4 levels."). Having no criminal history, Legins then faced a guidelines range of 27–33 months. See U.S.S.G. Ch. 5 Pt. A.8

At sentencing, the court adopted the 27–33-month range and granted the prosecution's requested upward variance. The court found that, while the guidelines accounted for the underlying May sexual abuse,9 they did not reflect that Legins had abused B.L. more than once. The guidelines range did not reflect the "related conduct from the March offense—namely abusive sexual contact in violation of 18...

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