Monday, November 02, 2015

Managing property is not the same as managing the enterprise

In United States v. Christian, 13-6530, the Sixth Circuit clarified application of the management sentencing enhancement under USSG § 3B1.1. Christian was part of a four-member truck theft ring, that stole one Mayflower moving truck as well as several 18-wheelers carrying loads of tires. The tires were kept in a storage unit rented in Mr. Christian's girlfriend's name. Co-defendant Lanton had a key to the unit itself, but Christian had the code to get into the facility.

The government argued the 2-point enhancement under § 3B1.1(c) applied because Christian controlled access to the stolen property; that he "managed" the assets of the criminal enterprise. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. Another co-conspirator described Lanton as "the head man over the Mayflower trailer load." Lanton had a buyer for the stolen tires, and only Lanton received payment from that buyer. Lanton told Christian to rent the storage unit, and to do so in his girlfriend's name. Lanton gave Christian 125 tires from one of the thefts. Lanton also convinced Christian to execute an affidavit exculpating Lanton.

In its opinion, the Sixth Circuit walked through many of the § 3B1.1(c) considerations: Christian did not recruit others to join the ring. He did not help plan any of the thefts. He lacked special expertise on which the truck theft ring depended. He did not provide information that facilitated the offense. He did not issue orders to any group member.

The Sixth also took care to discuss the difference between a guideline sentencing enhancement and a departure. A sentencing court is required to accurately calculate the guideline range before considering whether to depart. While definite numbers are associated with sentencing enhancements, departures have no such recommendations. Here, the district court erred in calculating the guideline, and so must be reversed.

Also of interest, the Court gave very clear remand instructions: the government did not ask for a second chance to support the § 3B1.1 enhancement on remand, and had told the district court it had no other evidence to support it. Christian was to be resentenced using a guideline range not based on the § 3B1.1 adjustment. The Court expressly left open debate on the amount-of-loss adjustment as well as any other argument Christian might raise at sentencing.

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