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Media Alerts - United States v. Price -- Fourth Circuit
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April 30, 2015
  United States v. Price -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: What Do Words Have To Do With It? Circumstance-Specific Analysis and Sentencing under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act

Area of Law: Criminal Law, Statutory Interpretation

Issues Presented: (1) Whether the district court erred when it applied a circumstance-specific approach in determining whether a prior conviction is a sex offense under SORNA; and (2) whether failing to register as a sex offender is a sex offense under the Sentencing Guidelines.

Brief Summary: In 2010, Antwain Guanterio Price was convicted of committing assault and aggravated battery against his twelve year-old stepdaughter in South Carolina. Price served time and agreed to register with South Carolina's central child abuse and sex offender registry. After his release, Price moved to Ohio and failed to register as a sex offender, so the City of Akron issued a warrant for his arrest. In 2012, Price moved back to South Carolina and was arrested based on the Ohio warrant. Due to his prior conviction, he was indicted for knowingly failing to register as a sex offender, as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA"). Price sought dismissal of the indictment arguing that his prior conviction was not a sex offense under SORNA. After conducting a circumstance-specific review of the facts underlying his prior conviction, the district court denied his motion and held he was subject to SORNA's registration requirement. Price pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison and a life term of supervised release. However, Price appealed his sentence claiming the district court should have dismissed his indictment. Price also alleged the court miscalculated the term of his supervised release. The United States Court of the Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the dismissal motion, but vacated the supervised release determination.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Price's dismissal motion after reviewing three analytical frameworks defining the scope of materials that may be reviewed when determining whether an underlying offense satisfies a statutory definition. The court concluded that the district court correctly applied the circumstance-specific approach because SORNA's purpose is to protect the general public and the statute's language refers to specific circumstances or conduct, which suggests that Congress intended for reviewing courts to utilize a more searching factual inquiry concerning a prior offense. Furthermore, the court acknowledged that although the Sixth Amendment compels courts to apply a much narrower, element-based "categorical" approach, the court concluded that it did not apply in this case because Price gave up his Sixth Amendment right when he pleaded guilty.

The court, however, vacated the supervised release determination based on its recent decision in United States v. Collins and the Seventh Circuit's decision in United States v. Goodwin. According to the court, Collins recognized a clarifying amendment to the Guidelines that makes clear that failing to register as a sex offender under SORNA is not a "sex offense." Under Goodwin, the Seventh Circuit issued a second clarifying amendment establishing that where the statutory minimum term of supervised release is greater than the Guidelines, the Guidelines creates a "single point" at the statutory minimum. As a result, the court concluded the Guidelines recommend that Price receive a five-year term of supervised release rather than a life term. Therefore, the court determined the district court's calculation of Price's supervised release was plain error and remanded for resentencing.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges King and Motz, and Arenda L. Wright Allen, United States District Judge (E.D. Va.), sitting by designation

Argument Date: 12/09/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/03/2015

Docket Number: No. 13-4216

Decided:
Affirmed in Part; vacated in Part; remanded by published opinion
Case Alert Author: Jamie Lee, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Kimberly Harvey Albro, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant. Tommie DeWayne Pearson, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. Bradley Nelson Garcia, O'MELVENY & MYERS, LLP, Washington, D.C., as Court-Assigned Amicus Counsel. ON BRIEF: John H. Hare, Assistant Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant. William N. Nettles, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. Gregory F. Jacob, Rakesh Kilaru, O'MELVENY & MYERS, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Court-Assigned Amicus Counsel

Author of Opinion: Judge King

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/30/2015 10:23 AM     4th Circuit  

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