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The Florida False Imprisonment conviction did not qualify as a crime of violence under the sentencing guidelines enhancement for reentry after deportation

In this illegal reentry case the 11th Circuit once again faced the question of whether a prior conviction for a crime of violence triggered the steep sentencing enhancement imposed by the sentencing guidelines. The prior conviction in question here was a Florida conviction for false imprisonment. In U.S. v. Rosales-Bruno the defendant did not have to face the sentencing enhancement that face many defendants in federal criminal court in Miami who have been whose only crime was to reenter the U.S. after deportation. The sentencing court enhanced the defendant’s sentence based on the court’s finding that a prior Florida conviction for false imprisonment qualified as a crime of violence under sentencing guidelines. The Florida law defines false imprisonment as “forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person…against his or her will.” The applicable guideline section 2L1.2 requires a 16 level increase in calculating a defendant’s offense level if a defendant was deported after a conviction for a crime of violence. The defendant argued of course that the Florida law was not a crime of violence for the reason that one could violate the false imprisonment statute by secretly detaining a person, meaning without employing the physical force contemplated in the sentencing guidelines for a crime of violence. Rosales-Bruno further argued that the government had not proven that he did employ physical force when he committed the false imprisonment offense.

In determining whether the prior conviction was a crime of violence, the 11th Circuit took what it termed a “modified categorical approach” By this, the court looks at the fact of conviction, the statutory definition of the offense, any charging papers and jury instructions in an effort to determine whether committing the offense required committing a crime of violence. However, where the statutory definition of the prior offense encompasses both violent and non-violent criminal conduct, the court looks beyond the fact of conviction and the elements of the offense to determine whether the prior conviction falls under a particular statutory phrase that qualifies it as a crime of violence.
The 11th Circuit concluded the false imprisonment was not a crime of violence. The offense was not a categorically a violent offense.

The 11th Circuit also found the statutory elements of the false imprisonment offense under Florida law do not necessarily involve the use or threat of physical force or violence against an individual. It found that false imprisonment under Florida law encompasses several distinct crimes, some of which qualify as crimes of violence and others do not. Under the modified categorical approach, the court looked at 1) the charging document, 2) the judgment of conviction showing the two offenses to which the defendant pled nolo contendere, and 3) the arrest affidavit. The court did not consider the fact set out in the arrest affidavit, which also appeared in the presentence investigation report, because the defendant specifically objected to the description of the offense conduct underlying the false imprisonment conviction.

The judgment showed the defendant was convicted of false imprisonment and battery. The Supreme Court had decided in U.S. v. Johnson, 130 S.Ct. 1265 (2010) that a battery as defined under Florida law was not a crime of violence. Here, the 11th Circuit held that a false imprisonment conviction can be without physical force. There was no conclusive assurance from the charges that the defendant necessarily committed a crime of violence