Skip to main content

3d Circuit affirms life sentence and holds that § 848(b) sets forth sentencing factors, not a separate crime.

In United States v. Tidwell, No. 02-3139 (3d Cir. Mar. 31, 2008), the Third Circuit held that Congress intended 21 U.S.C. § 848(b) as a sentencing enhancement, not as a separate crime, and thus the life sentence imposed on Tidwell under § 848(b) was constitutional where the factual basis was not charged in the indictment. Tidwell had pleaded guilty to engaging in a criminal enterprise in violation of § 848 ("Continuing criminal enterprise"), which carries a penalty of 20 years to life imprisonment. The indictment, however, did not specifically charge him with violating § 848(b) ("Life imprisonment for engaging in continuing criminal enterprise"), which carries a mandatory life sentence for one who is the leader of the enterprise and either the offense involved 300 times the quantity of drugs described in § 841(b)(1)(B) or the enterprise received more than $10 million in gross receipts over a 12-month period.

The district court sentenced him to life imprisonment under § 848(b), reasoning that § 848(b) sets forth sentencing factors that govern sentences imposed for violating the substantive offense, rather than elements of a separate crime. The Third Circuit agreed. Examining the structure, format, and text of the statute, and four Supreme Court decisions (Almendarez-Torres, Jones, Castillo, and Harris), as well as the legislative history of § 848(b), the Court concluded that Congress intended to define the crime of continuing criminal enterprise in § 848(c), that it set out the applicable penalties for that crime in subsection (a), and that it intended to mandate an enhancement when a defendant commits the offense in the manner set forth in subsection (b). Thus, the Third Circuit affirmed Tidwell’s life sentence as constitutionally imposed, where the factual basis was not charged in the indictment nor proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, the Third Circuit rejected Tidwell’s claim that his plea violated due process, reasoning that he was informed that, absent a government motion seeking a sentencing reduction, his guilty plea subjected him to a mandatory life sentence.


Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.

The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…

A Traffic Stop Followed by a Summons is not an Intervening Arrest for Sentencing Guidelines Purposes

In United States v. Ley, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 5618617 (3d Cir., Nov. 22, 2017), the Third Circuit held that a traffic stop, followed by the issuance of a summons, is not an intervening arrest for the purpose of calculating a defendant’s prior convictions under USSG § 4A1.2(a)(2).   Defendant John Francis Ley received two speeding tickets on two consecutive days.  After writing each ticket, the police released Ley and informed him that the matter would proceed via summons.  No arrest was made and Ley was sentenced for both matters on the same day. The District Court, however, held that the issuance of the summons constituted an intervening arrest for the purposes of the Guidelines and each ticket therefore merited an individual criminal history point.  Ley appealed.  Looking at the ordinary meaning of both “arrest” and “summons,” as well as the Supreme Court’s history of distinguishing arrests from other interactions with law enforcement, the Third Circuit, joining three other circuits …