Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Third Circuit Blog

Third Circuit Blog

Special Skill Enhancement Reversed. In USA v. De La Cruz, No.05-5554 (Aug.18, 2006), the Circuit reversed a 2-level enhancement for use of a special skill, USSG 3B1.3, where the defendant's "special skill" consisted of operating a 20-ft. power boat on a 50-mile trip from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to transport cocaine. The court held that no special skill was used to pilot the boat, which the defendant borrowed from a friend. The boat had a 40 horsepower engine and contained no navigational equipment, marine radio, or nautical charts. De La Cruz had no boating license, made the trip in the daytime, and took a direct route. Based on these facts, the Court found that the trip was a straight, relatively simple trip requiring only line-of-sight navigation, with the boat never out of sight of land. It distinguished the 11th Circuit's opinion in US v. Calderon, 127 F.3d 1314 (1997), where the enhancement was warranted where the defendants piloted a 38-foot boat on the high seas from the Bahamas to Southern Florida, traveled at night with the lights off using only charts and a compass, and took a circuitous path to avoid detection by the Coast Guard. Here, it was clear error to apply the enhancement. Reversed and remanded.

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