Sunday, February 25, 2007

Guidelines enhancement for bartering drugs for gun

In US v. Charles Navarro, No. 05-4102 (3d Cir. 2/14/06) (click to link) the 3rd Circuit upheld a 4-level enhancement under USSG section 2K2.1(b)(5) for possession of a gun "in connection with another felony offense."

Navarro, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun, had told police he had bartered three rocks of crack cocaine for the gun. At sentencing, the defense objected to a 4-level enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(5) for possession of the gun in connection with a felony -- drug trafficking -- because in the context of the bartering arrangement here, the drug delivery was not sufficiently distinct from the offense of possession of the gun. The district court applied the enhancement.

On appeal, the Circuit interpreted two prior cases, Fenton, 309 F.3d 825 (3d Cir. 2002), and Lloyd, 361 F.3d 197 (3d Cir. 2004), in an effort to "distill" a rule applicable to a bartering situation such as this one. The Circuit concluded that these cases taken together establish a two-part test: 1) "Whether the predicate offense and the firearms offense each have an element not shared by the other." (The Blockburger test.) 2) "Whether more than mere possession of the firearm (such as brandishment or other use) was an integral aspect of the predicate offense." If the answer to both is yes, the enhancement applies.

Applying this test here, the Circuit found first that drug delivery and firearms possession each have an element not shared by the other. Second, the Circuit found that since drug dispensation does not require an exchange of something of value, Navarro's possession of the firearm was not an integral aspect of the offense. The Court thus concluded that the enhancement applied; under this test, the drug dispensation was sufficiently distinct to count as "another felony offense."

Judge Bright (from the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation) wrote a persuasive dissent. As Judge Bright points out, "In this case, firearm possession was integral to Navarro's drugs for guns exchange" since this exchange was the means through which he came into possession of the gun. The gun was not brandished or used in any other way beyond mere possession, and thus the facts do not meet the second part of the test. Thus, Judge Bright would hold that the enhancement should not have applied.

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