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United States v. Conway

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

December 23, 2019




         Defendant Christopher Michael Conway pled guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) & (2). The Assistant United States Attorney and the United States Probation Officer urged the application of a four-level enhancement to his sentence, pursuant to United States Sentencing Guidelines § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). Conway objected and, in addition, sought a downward variance from his calculated custody range.

         The court overruled Conway's objection and applied the enhancement, which yielded a recommended custody range of 77 to 96 months. The court then granted a downward variance, resulting in a sentence of 50 months of incarceration, to account for two factors: (1) the inappropriate harshness of the four-level enhancement, which is unfairly severe given Conway's underlying behavior, and (2) his lifelong and well-documented struggles with substance abuse. Although the court provided its reasons for the variance at the sentencing hearing, this opinion sets forth the court's rationale in further detail.


         In early January 2018, officers conducted a search of Thomas Grier's residence. They located, among other items, a Harrington and Richardson 158 shotgun. Grier, who was arrested at the time, reportedly told investigators that Conway, the defendant in the instant case, brought the item to the residence.

         Later in January, Conway, Grier, and a third individual were arrested. Conway later admitted that he traded methamphetamine for the shotgun. He says he served as a broker, facilitating the exchange for a small fee. He then took the shotgun to Grier (who also has a prior felony conviction), apparently hoping that Grier could re-sell the firearm at a higher price. The shotgun was allegedly manufactured before 1968 and, according to Conway, was kept without ammunition inside a case. Put simply, it served as barter in a trade but was not used in any threatened or actual violence.

         After Conway pled guilty, he came before the court for sentencing.


         A. Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) Sentencing Enhancement

         1. Legal Standard

         A sentencing court has considerable discretion in determining an appropriate sentence, but the sentence must be reasonable. See, e.g., United States v. Irey, 612 F.3d 1160, 1188-89 (11th Cir. 2010). In determining a defendant's sentence, courts must consider the recommended sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines and any relevant policy statements. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a); see also United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 259-60 (2005).

         But the Guidelines are only “one factor among several courts must consider in determining an appropriate sentence.” Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U.S. 85, 90 (2007). In determining a sentence, courts are also required to consider the nature and circumstances of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment; the need to afford adequate deterrence and protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; the need to provide, in the most effective manner, needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment to the defendant; the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; the need to provide restitution to any victims; and the kinds of sentences available. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). While Guidelines sentences generally should approximate these § 3553(a) factors, a trial court may, in the course of an individual sentencing, determine that “the case at hand falls outside the ‘heartland' to which the Commission intends individual Guidelines to apply” or that “the Guidelines sentence itself fails properly to reflect § 3553(a) considerations.” Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338, 351 (2007).

         2. Applicability of Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) to Conway

         In calculating Conway's recommended Guidelines range, the United States Probation Office took the position that Conway should receive a four-level enhancement pursuant to Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). Under this guideline, a four-level sentencing enhancement is appropriate if the defendant “[u]sed or possessed any firearm or ammunition in connection with another felony offense; or possessed or transferred any firearm or ammunition with knowledge, intent, or reason to believe that it would be used or possessed in connection with another felony offense.” United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) (Nov. 2018) (“U.S.S.G.”). This ...

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