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Friday, July 29, 2005

‘Use of a minor’ enhancement and footnote about Feeney Amendment

In United States v. Pojilenko, No. 03-4446 (3d Cir. 7/27/05), the Third Circuit determined that, in order to apply the ‘use of a minor’ enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.4, the district court must find an affirmative act, rather than just mere participation in a crime with a minor.

Also, the Court disagreed with the Eleventh Circuit, and ruled that where a defendant participates in a conspiracy, and a member of that conspiracy "used a minor" as described in § 3B1.4, such use could not be attributed to the defendant, even if the co-conspirator's ‘use of a minor’ was foreseeable. This holding may have greater ramifications upon the government's ability to assign relevant conduct where the justification is simply vicarious liability under conspiracy law.

Interestingly, as noted on www.sentencing.typepad.com, the Court also dropped the following footnote:
Relying on United States v. Detweiler, 338 F.Supp.2d 1166 (D.Or., 2004), Pojilenko also challenges on separation of powers grounds the constitutionality of the Sentencing Reform Act as amended by the "Feeney Amendment," Pub.L. No. 10821, § 401, 117 Stat. 650 (2003). He asks us to direct that only the Sentencing Guidelines in effect before the Feeney Amendment be applied on remand in an advisory capacity. We decline to do so. This argument was not advanced in the District Court, and our review is confined to plain error. The Supreme Court rejected a separation of powers challenge to the Act in Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 109 S.Ct. 647, 102 L.Ed.2d 714 (1989). While the Feeney Amendment's change in the composition of the Sentencing Commission may provide an arguable basis for distinguishing Mistretta, the District Court clearly did not commit plain error in applying the post-Feeney Amendment guidelines in this case. Even if an argument is "plausible," any error is not "plain" when it was not "clear under current law." United States v. Clark, 237 F.3d 293, 298-99 (3d Cir.2001) (quoting United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734 (1993).

Because the Court seems to only reject the defendant's argument due to its plain error posture, it appears that the Court may find some merit to the very valid argument that the Feeney Amendment so changed the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) and the Sentencing Commission that the resulting sentencing scheme is wholly unconstitutional, or that the SRA is only constitutional as in effect prior to the Feeney Amendment. Perhaps, if the Supreme Court or the Third Circuit were presented with a Mistretta argument, post-Feeney, the outcome would be different.

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