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Letter classification of offense under § 3559(a) does not require reference to guidelines

The Third Circuit in United States v. Lovett, No. 05-4171 (3d Cir. Nov. 6, 2006), rejected the contention that under § 3559(a), the "maximum term of imprisonment authorized" is based on the maximum term of imprisonment authorized by the Guidelines, rather than the statute of conviction. Lovett received a 16-month sentence for his conviction of making a false statement to a federally licensed firearms dealer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6), and, on appeal, challenged only the imposition of his three-year term of supervised release. Since his range would have been 12-18 months, he argued, he would have thus been classified as a Class E felony, for which the term of supervised release would not have exceeded one year. The Third Circuit rejected the argument, reasoning that the classification process in § 3559 requires, first, identifying the offense of conviction, then, if a letter grade has not been assigned, looking to the "maximum term of imprisonment authorized." Because § 3559(a) refers to the "section defining" the criminal offense, the Court concluded that this can only refer to the Federal Crimes Code, not the sentencing guidelines.

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