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United States v. Hawkins

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 9, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
VERNON HAWKINS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

On August 13, 2013, Defendant Vernon Hawkins pled guilty to one count of Making a False Statement in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Presently before the Court are the [58] Final Presentence Investigation Report filed by the United States Probation Office, the Government’s [63] Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, Defendant’s [65] Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, the Government’s [70] Reply Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, and Defendant’s [72] Response to the Government’s Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing, each of which addresses the issue of the appropriate calculation under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) that the Court should consider in imposing its sentence. Given the legal issues raised in the parties’ briefing on this issue, the Court is now rendering its decision in writing in advance of the sentencing hearing in order to explain the legal basis for the Court’s decision regarding the application of the guidelines to this action.

For the reasons described herein, the Court has determined that Defendant’s base offense level should be calculated pursuant to U.S.S.G. §§ 2B1.1(c)(3) & 2J1.2(a), and, therefore, is 14. Moreover, the Court finds that the parties have presented factual disputes that must be resolved in order to determine whether the Court should apply an upward adjustment for obstruction of justice pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 and/or a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a). As such, the Court shall reserve ruling on these factual disputes until the sentencing hearing.

BACKGROUND

On August 13, 2013, Defendant pled guilty to a one-count Information, charging Defendant with a Making a False Statement in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. See Information, ECF No. [1]. As described in the Information, on or about December 2011, Defendant gave a person (“Person One”) funds that Defendant received from another criminal defendant pending sentencing before this Court, in order to persuade Person One to leave town for an extended period of time, so that Person One would be unavailable to speak with federal agents in the FBI’s investigation into a Get Out of the Vote (“GOTV”) effort funded by a particular executive in support of a 2010 mayoral campaign. Id. However, on or about August 16, 2012, Defendant did knowingly and willfully make materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations to FBI special agents by stating that: (1) “he did not know of anyone asked or told to go out of town who had been involved with” the 2010 mayoral campaign or the GOTV initiative at issue; (2) “he never requested for anyone to leave town so that they could not come to the U.S. Attorney’s Office or speak with federal agents”; and (3) “he did not help or assist with sending anyone out of town so that they would not be able to speak with federal agents in the FBI’s investigation” of the GOTV effort. Id.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, the parties specifically reserved the right to litigate at sentencing which sentencing guideline[1] is applicable to Defendant’s conduct. Plea Agmt. at 3, ECF No. [6]. During the plea hearing, the Court specifically set forth both the Government’s and Defendant’s view as the applicable guideline(s) and the related base offense level that would apply under each calculation. Tr. 53:9-56:6 (Aug. 13, 2013), ECF No. [20]. Defendant indicated on the record that he had discussed with counsel the parties’ differing positions regarding the application of the guidelines. Id. 54:11, 54:17, 56:6.

As previously mentioned, both parties and the U.S. Probation Office now have provided the Court with briefing more fully explaining their respective guideline calculations and the bases for those calculations. The Court shall briefly set forth the differing positions as to the appropriate guideline calculation in this case. The following chart highlights the areas of dispute between the various calculations before the Court:

U.S. PROBATION OFFICE

GOVERNMENT

DEFENDANT

Base offense level

14

(U.S.S.G. §§ 2B1.1(c)(3) & 2J1.2)

14

(U.S.S.G. §§ 2B1.1(c)(3) & 2J1.2)

6

(U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(a)(2))

Adjustment for Obstruction of Justice

0

(U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1)

0

Acceptance of Responsibility

-2

(U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a))

0

-2

(U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a))

TOTAL OFFENSE LEVEL

12

16

4

As such, the Court must first resolve the applicable base offense level, and then must determine whether to apply an upward adjustment for obstruction of justice and/or a downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility. The Court shall address each issue in turn.

DISCUSSION

A. Base offense level

The first issue before the Court is whether Defendant’s base offense level is properly calculated pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(a)(2), as Defendant asserts, or whether the cross-reference provision of U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3) is applicable. The parties generally agree that U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 (fraud guideline) is the starting point for the analysis of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Defendant argues that the Court should apply U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(a)(2), which provides that the base offense level for a defendant convicted of an offense of fraud and deceit is 6. However, the Government and the U.S. Probation Office assert that the cross-reference provision of U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3), is applicable in this instance. Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3), if the defendant is convicted under a statute proscribing false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations generally, such as 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and “the conduct set forth in the count of conviction establishes an offense specifically covered by another guideline in Chapter Two (Offense Conduct), ” the Court should apply that other guideline.[2] Application Note 15 to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 explains:

Subsection (c)(3) provides a cross reference to another guideline in Chapter Two (Offense Conduct) in cases in which the defendant is convicted of a general fraud statute, and the count of conviction establishes an offense involving fraudulent conduct that is more aptly covered by another guideline. Sometimes, offenses involving fraudulent statements are prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, or a similarly general statute, although the offense involves fraudulent conduct that is also covered by a more specific statute.

U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 application n.15 (2012).[3] Based on the cross-reference provision, the Government and the U.S. Probation Office assert that Defendant’s conduct is more aptly covered by U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2, the guideline for obstruction of justice. Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2J1.2(a), the base offense level for an obstruction of justice offense is 14.

The parties raise two issues central to their respective positions. First, the parties dispute whether the Court may look only to the charging document, in this case the Information filed on August 12, 2013, or whether the Court may consider other evidence in the record, including the facts set forth in Statement of the Offense to which Defendant stipulated as part of his plea, in order to determine whether Defendant’s conduct satisfies all the elements of an obstruction of justice charge such that the cross-reference provision of U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3) is applicable.[4]Second, the parties dispute whether Defendant’s conduct meets the statutory requirements of various obstruction of justice offenses when applying either the more or less restrictive view of what conduct the Court may consider. For the reasons described herein, the Court shall consider conduct specifically related to the offense of conviction in the Statement of the Offense and in the charging document to which Defendant pled guilty in order to determine whether the cross-reference provision U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3) is applicable. However, the Court finds that even if it only looks to the conduct set out in the count of the Information to which Defendant pled, Defendant’s conduct satisfies all the elements ...


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