United States v. Pruitt

Decision Date14 June 2021
Docket NumberNo. 20-6121,20-6121
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jeremy PRUITT, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

HELENE N. WHITE, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Jeremy Pruitt pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He appeals his 92-month sentence, challenging the district court's application of a six-level enhancement under United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.) § 3A1.2(c)(1) for assaulting an official victim. Because the district court did not make sufficient factual findings or provide adequate legal analysis to permit review of the enhancement, we VACATE the sentence and REMAND for resentencing consistent with this opinion.


A grand jury indicted Pruitt for possessing a firearm after being convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). After Pruitt pleaded guilty without a plea agreement, the probation office prepared a presentence investigation report (PSR) and recommended a six-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2(c)(1) for "assault[ing]" a police officer "in a manner creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury." Pruitt did not initially object to this enhancement but did later after obtaining a copy of footage from Officer Matthew Morton's body camera.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing to resolve Pruitt's objection. Morton testified that he stopped the car in which Pruitt was a passenger because it was missing a back bumper. As Morton approached, Pruitt, with a firearm visible in his hand, exited the vehicle and began to run away. Pruitt fell while running and Morton yelled at him to drop the gun. When Morton caught up to him, Pruitt attempted to grab Morton's service weapon while still holding his own firearm. After a "tussle" over Morton's firearm "for a second" while Morton was simultaneously "trying with [his] other hand to keep from getting shot by [Pruitt's] other hand," Pruitt broke free and ran away. R. 52, PID 198.1 As he was running away, Pruitt turned his body back towards Morton. Morton, believing that Pruitt was about to shoot him, fired his weapon at Pruitt, striking him in the hand. Pruitt fled but was apprehended a short time later in a nearby residence. Morton sustained only a bruise on his arm that he does not attribute to the scuffle with Pruitt.

Morton's body-camera footage was admitted into evidence. It shows Morton approaching the vehicle with Pruitt standing outside an open, rear passenger door. Morton commands Pruitt to "sit down" and "get back in the car," but Pruitt takes off running and falls after a few steps. Morton catches up to Pruitt while commanding him to "get on the ground" and "drop the gun." Pruitt says, "all right, sir, all right," but gets up from the ground. Pruitt's hand can be seen holding his gun by the barrel. Pruitt's other hand appears to grab Morton's service weapon by the barrel, and Pruitt and Morton grapple with each other for approximately three seconds. Pruitt then breaks free. Morton continues to yell, "drop the gun," and Pruitt responds, "all right, sir," as he runs away. Pruitt takes only a few strides before appearing to turn back towards Morton. Gunshots are then heard, and Pruitt rotates away from Morton and flees. It is not clear from the video if Pruitt ever pointed his firearm at Morton or repositioned his firearm to hold it by the grip. The time that elapses from when Morton and Pruitt initially begin grappling to when the gunshots are heard is about five seconds.

The district court overruled Pruitt's objection to the six-level enhancement. As a result, Pruitt's total offense level was 23. With a criminal-history category of VI, Pruitt's Guidelines range was 92–115 months. The district court imposed a sentence of 92 months’ imprisonment.


Pruitt challenges the district court's application of the six-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2(c)(1), commonly referred to as the official-victim enhancement. We review a district court's factual findings underlying a sentencing enhancement for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. United States v. Abdalla , 972 F.3d 838, 850 (6th Cir. 2020). Although the standard of review we apply to a district court's application of the Guidelines to the facts "is somewhat murky," we recently concluded that our review of the application of U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2(c)(1) to the facts of a given case should be deferential. Id. (footnote and citations omitted).2

Section 3A1.2(c)(1) of the Guidelines provides, in relevant part, for a six-level increase in a defendant's offense level "[i]f, in a manner creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury, the defendant ... [,] knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that a person was a law enforcement officer, assaulted such officer during the course of the offense or immediate flight therefrom." The Application Note to this section provides, in relevant part:

Subsection (c) applies in circumstances tantamount to aggravated assault ... against a law enforcement officer, committed in the course of, or in immediate flight following, another offense .... While subsection (c) may apply in connection with a variety of offenses that are not by nature targeted against official victims, its applicability is limited to assaultive conduct against such official victims that is sufficiently serious to create at least a "substantial risk of serious bodily injury".>
"Substantial risk of serious bodily injury" includes any more serious injury that was risked, as well as actual serious bodily injury (or more serious injury) if it occurs.>

U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2 cmt. n.4(A)-(B).

Pruitt first argues that the official-victim enhancement does not apply because "he did not commit a reckless assault, nor a reckless aggravated assault" on Officer Morton. Appellant's Br. at 12. He looks to Tennessee law for the definition of those offenses and argues that because Morton did not sustain an injury as a result of Pruitt's conduct, no assault was involved. Pruitt asserts that we should apply Tennessee's definitions of reckless assault in determining whether the enhancement applies because doing so is consistent with United States v. Coleman , 664 F.3d 1047 (6th Cir. 2012). And because Tennessee reckless aggravated assault requires bodily injury, Pruitt reasons, so must the official-victim enhancement. We disagree.

In Coleman , Coleman hit a police car with his vehicle, injuring an officer, while fleeing from a robbery he had committed. 664 F.3d at 1048. We rejected his argument that intent to cause bodily injury is required for application of the official-victim enhancement. Id. at 1051. Coleman asserted that U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2(c)(1) should be interpreted using § 2A2.2's definition of aggravated assault, which includes a physical injury requirement,3 but we declined to do so because § 2A2.2's "commentary limits its reach to cases where aggravated assault is the base offense," and the Guidelines provide that "definitions of terms appearing in other sections ‘are not designed for general applicability’ and their relevance to other sections ‘must be determined on a case by case basis.’ " Id. (quoting U.S.S.G. § 1B1.1 cmt. n.2). We explained that "[u]nlike the commentary to § 2A2.2, neither the text of nor the commentary to § 3A1.2(c)(1) suggests an intent requirement." Id. We further observed that because " § 3A1.2(c) requires only that the defendant's conduct ‘creat[e] a substantial risk of serious bodily injury’ to people that he knew or should have known were law enforcement officers," it "evokes the common law definition of recklessness." Id. (alteration in original). In support, we cited as examples Farmer v. Brennan ’s explanation of what constitutes recklessly disregarding a risk of serious harm, 511 U.S. 825, 836, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994), and Section 39-11-302(c) of the Tennessee Annotated Code, which defines "reckless." Coleman , 664 F.3d at 1051. From this brief citation to Tennessee's statutory definition of "reckless," Pruitt argues that we should apply Tennessee's reckless-aggravated-assault statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(B), and caselaw holding that bodily injury is an element of that offense, see State v. Rush , 50 S.W.3d 424, 430 (Tenn. 2001), in determining whether Pruitt's conduct warrants the enhancement.

We reject Pruitt's argument that Coleman requires application of Tennessee's reckless-aggravated-assault statute to determine whether the official-victim enhancement applies. Coleman merely cited Tennessee's definition of "reckless" to support its conclusion that "creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury" under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.2(c)(1) "evokes the common law definition of recklessness." 664 F.3d at 1051. Nothing in Coleman suggests that Tennessee's reckless-aggravated-assault statute provides the standard for determining whether the official-victim enhancement applies. Additionally, we hesitate to conclude that state law controls the definition of this federal sentencing guideline, cf. United States v. Thompson , 597 F. App'x 318, 320 (6th Cir. 2015) ("We have our doubts that state law controls the definition of ‘felonious assault’ for purposes of § 2A1.2."), "especially given ‘the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,’ " United States v. Olson , 646 F.3d 569, 573 n.3 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(6) ).4

Further, there is no support in the language of § 3A1.2(c)(1) for a bodily-injury requirement. As Pruitt recognizes, we have previously explained, albeit in unpublished opinions, that bodily injury is not required for the enhancement to apply. United States v. Thomas , No. 17-5513, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 6078, at *6 (6th Cir. Mar. 9, 2018) (stating that "[n]either intent to inflict injury nor an actual injury is required" to apply...

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