Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fact that co-conspirator helped plan robbery that led to high speed chase insufficient to warrant U.S.S.G. §3C1.2 enhancement

Defendant Dwayne Cespedes was part of a three-member conspiracy which planned and executed an armed bank robbery. After removing more than $20,000 from the bank safe, Cespedes and co-conspirator Michael Grant entered the getaway car driven by co-conspirator Curtis Whitehurst. Whitehurst refused to submit to an attempted traffic stop and led police on a high speed chase through two counties. During the chase, Cespedes and Grant got out of the car and fled on foot, while Whitehurst continued his reckless driving, ignoring traffic laws, running stop signs, traveling in the wrong direction on certain roads and nearly striking several pedestrians in a crosswalk.

At Cespedes's sentencing, the district court applied a two-level enhancement for recklessly endangering others while fleeing from law enforcement officers pursuant to U.S.S.G. §3C1.2. The court rejected Cespedes's objection that the enhancement was improper because he never possessed control over the getaway vehicle and had exited the vehicle due to his co-defendant's erratic driving. On appeal, the Third Circuit, in United States v. Cespedes, No. 10-3432 (3d Cir. December 21, 2011), joined a number of other circuits in concluding that some form of direct or active participation by a defendant is required in order to apply the §3C1.2 enhancement. The Court noted that Application Note 5 to §3C1.2 provides that a defendant is only accountable for the reckless conduct of another under §3C1.2 if the defendant "aided or abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused" the reckless conduct. Thus, where a defendant is merely a passenger in a vehicle fleeing from police, a district court must clearly indicate on the record how the defendant was responsible for the driver's conduct. The proof here, indicating only that the conspirators collectively planned a robbery that led to a high speed chase was inadequate to qualify Cespedes, a passenger in the getaway car, for a reckless endangerment during flight enhancement. Accordingly, the Court vacated Cespedes's sentence and remanded his case for resentencing without the enhancement.

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