Monday, February 26, 2007

Fourth Circuit issues opinion on grouping of offenses and reduction of sentence

In UNITED STATES v. HARGROVE, Keith Hargrove pleaded guilty to three drug counts and was then tried and convicted of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (2000). In calculating his guidelines sentence, the district court denied Hargrove a two-level reduction in offense level for the drug counts for acceptance responsibility. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded because the district court erred in believing that it had no legal authority to grant the reduction with respect to the drug offenses after Hargrove went trial on the 924(c) firearm charge. According to the panel:

He has pleaded guilty and did not go to trial on the narcotics counts grouped under the guidelines, which together constitute the only "offense" for purposes of 3E1.1. Thus, Hargrove has accepted responsibility for his 3E1.1 offense and so is eligible for the reduction. To be sure, he did proceed to trial on the 924(c) count, but that does not render him ineligible for the reduction because it is not subject to grouping with the guidelines offenses, is not factored into determining the guidelines offense level, and cannot be the basis for an acceptance of responsibility reduction. Because Hargrove accepted responsibility for all of the drug counts-- the counts grouped together under the guidelines that constitute the"offense" for the purposes of 3E1.1 --he was eligible for the reduction. The district court thus erred in concluding that it did not have the legal authority to grant Hargrove the reduction.

Chief Judge Wilikins dissented. He would have ruled that in determining whether to grant the reduction, the district court could consider the fact that Hargrove proceeded to trial and contested the facts underlying his 924(c) offense.

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