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Media Alerts - United States v. Aparicio-Soria - Fourth Circuit
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February 13, 2014
  United States v. Aparicio-Soria - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Although Defendant Bites, Sentence Enhancement for "Crime of Violence" Was Not Right

Area of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration, Sentencing

Issue Presented: Whether the Maryland crime of resisting arrest qualifies as a "crime of violence" for purposes of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Brief Summary: After police officers observed Marcel Aparicio-Soria driving erratically, they attempted to pull his truck over. Aparicio-Soria sped off, and in the process almost ran into a police officer and hit another car. After a short chase, police officers deployed "stop sticks" that deflated the tires on Aparicio-Soria's truck, but he continued his escape on foot. Pursuing Aparicio-Soria into a hotel lobby, the police released a K-9 dog and shocked Aparicio-Soria with a Taser three times. He continued to resist, biting one police officer's hand. Officers were eventually able to arrest Aparicio-Soria, and in 2006, he was convicted in Maryland state court of resisting arrest. Sometime thereafter, Aparicio-Soria was convicted of an unrelated offense and deported.

In 2012, Aparicio-Soria was arrested inside the United States and was convicted of illegally reentering the United States after being convicted of an aggravated felony. In sentencing Aparicio-Soria, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland concluded that his prior state conviction for resisting arrest was a "crime of violence" because Aparicio-Soria, among other things, bit a police officer during the hotel brawl. This finding led the court to increase Aparicio-Soria's sentence.

Aparicio-Soria challenged the District Court's application of the Sentencing Guidelines to increase his sentence, contending, inter alia, that the Maryland crime of resisting arrest did not qualify as a "crime of violence" because the state statute did not require the use, attempted use, or threatened use of violent force against another person. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit initially rejected Aparicio-Soria's claim in June 2013, and affirmed the District Court's determination. However, sitting en banc, the Fourth Circuit later reversed course.

Relying on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Descamps v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2276 (2013), the en banc court concluded that the District Court improperly considered the underlying facts of Aparicio-Soria's prior conviction at sentencing. The District Court should have used the "categorical approach" to sentencing enhancements, which considers only a prior conviction's statutory elements to determine whether it qualifies as a federal sentencing predicate. Applying this categorical approach to the case before it, the en banc Fourth Circuit concluded that the elements of the Maryland crime of resisting arrest require only offensive physical contact, not the violent force needed for a sentence enhancement under the Guidelines. Therefore, Aparicio-Soria's increased sentence was improper and the case was remanded for resentencing.

Judge Wilkinson, who wrote for the majority in the June 2013 decision, dissented, contending that the Maryland crime of resisting arrest clearly requires violent force and urging the court to consider earlier state and federal decisions involving this issue.

Panel: TRAXLER, Chief Judge, and WILKINSON, NIEMEYER, MOTZ, KING, GREGORY, SHEDD, DUNCAN, AGEE, DAVIS, KEENAN, WYNN, DIAZ, FLOYD, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/14/2014

Docket Number: No. 12-4603

Case Alert Author: Sakkara Blanchard

Counsel: ARGUED: Sapna Mirchandani, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant. Paul Nitze, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: James Wyda, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellant. Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Davis, J.; Wilkinson, J. (dissenting)

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/13/2014 08:40 AM     4th Circuit  

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