United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
H. THOMPSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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
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.
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
Conway pled guilty, he came before the court for sentencing.
Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) Sentencing Enhancement
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).
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).
Applicability of Guideline 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) to Conway
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 ...