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Media Alerts - United States v. Bryant -- Fourth Circuit
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February 13, 2014
  United States v. Bryant -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Busted Lip Bathroom Brawl Becomes Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Sentencing

Issues Presented: 1. Whether the district court erred in denying Charlie Bryant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. 2. Whether the district court erred in calculating Bryant's sentence when it used the Sentencing Guidelines provision for aggravated assault (U.S.S.G. § 2A2.2), instead of the provision for obstructing or impeding an officer (U.S.S.G. § 2A2.4).

Brief Summary: Charlie Bryant was arrested for a scuffle with a Social Security Administration security officer on the floor of a public restroom. The officer suffered a cut lip that needed one stitch. Bryant pled guilty to 18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) and (b), for infliction of bodily injury. However, his pre-sentencing report subsequently described the charged offense as bodily injury by use of a deadly weapon. Bryant was sentenced to an enhanced sentence of 130 months. In the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Bryant appealed the denial of the motion to withdraw his guilty plea due to the trial court's failure to hold a competency hearing. He also challenged the lower court's application of the Sentencing Guidelines. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, but vacated and remanded for re-sentencing.

Extended Summary: Charlie Bryant, a homeless man with chronic mental illness and a criminal record, went to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") to inquire about his benefits. An SSA security officer asked Mr. Bryant to quiet down due to his loud and disruptive behavior. Thereafter, Bryant and the officer became involved in a scuffle. They wound up on the floor of the public restroom, requiring the assistance of two additional SSA employees. During the fight the officer sustained a cut lip that needed one stitch. Bryant pled guilty to 18 U.S.C. §111(a)(1), for assault on an officer in the course of his official duties, and §111(b) the enhanced penalty that is applied when there is bodily injury. During the plea hearing the government explained that it was seeking the §111(b) enhancement due to the infliction of bodily injury on the victim.

Prior to sentencing, a Pre-Sentence Report ("PSR") was prepared. Unlike the indictment and statements made during the plea hearing, the PSR stated that the charged offense was a violation of 18 U.S.C. §111(a)(1) and (b) "by use of a deadly weapon." Under the Sentencing Guidelines a sentence may be enhance more significantly if a weapon is involved.

When the sentencing court considered the bodily injury enhancement factor during sentencing, the judge stated there was "some bodily injury...although not much." The judge also noted, "this is a huge sentence that this guy gets for a busted lip." The district court even indicated that the offense took place "with no weapon involved by the defendant." Despite these statements, the court sentenced Mr. Bryant to 130 months under U.S.S.G §2A2.2 for aggravated assault, rather than the lesser enhancement under U.S.S.G. §2A2.4 for obstructing or impeding officers. In Bryant's case, the §2A2.2 enhancement required evidence of "involvement of a dangerous weapon."

Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit first considered Bryant's challenge to the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the motion. The Fourth Circuit found that the judge adequately questioned Bryant to determine whether he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This inquiry revealed that Bryant was taking medication, but that it did not affect his ability to understand.

However, the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the case for resentencing. As mentioned above, the sentencing court sentenced Bryant using an enhancement that allowed a substantial increase of Bryant's sentence but required evidence of use of a weapon. The Fourth Circuit first noted that the offense Bryant pled guilty to did not entail the use of a dangerous weapon. While this fact did not preclude the sentencing court from considering any use of a weapon for sentencing purposes, the Fourth Circuit found that the record was unclear as to whether the sentencing court found Bryant used a weapon. Many of the sentencing court's comments suggested that a weapon was not involved in the offense. However, the Fourth Circuit also noted there was evidence to support a finding that a dangerous weapon had been used. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for resentencing.

Panel: Judge Keenan, Wynn, and Thacker

Argument Date: 10/29/2013

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/14/2014

Docket Number: No. 12-4912

Decided: Affirmed in part; vacated and remanded in part by unpublished opinion.

Case Alert Author: Magaly Bittner

Counsel: ARGUED: Cindy Helene Popkin-Bradley, CINDY H. POPKIN-BRADLEY ATTORNEY AT LAW, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. William Michael Miller, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Anne M. Tompkins, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wynn

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/13/2014 09:15 AM     4th Circuit  

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