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Defendant’s prior Georgia conviction for false imprisonment qualified as a crime of violence under the career offender provision of the sentencing guidelines

In U.S. v. Chitwood, the defendant pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and was sentenced to 188 month because the federal district court found Chitwood was a career offender under sentencing guideline §4B1.1(a). Under this provision a defendant with two or more drug offense or a crime of violence will be subject to a higher sentencing guidelines range. The sentencing court found he had two prior crimes of violence convictions making him eligible to be sentenced as a career offender. One of the two convictions was a Georgia conviction for false imprisonment statute. Chitwood challenged and argued the crime was not a crime of violence under the categorical approach because there was no physical force. While this case took place in Georgia, this is a common issue in Miami where Florida has a false imprisonment offense.

Under 18 U.S.C. §4B1.2, the career offender provision of the sentencing guidelines, a prior offense is a crime of violence if the offense:
1) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against a person,
2) fits one of the enumerated crimes of burglary, arson, extortion, or explosives, or
3) falls into the residual clause, which includes crimes that otherwise involve conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

The Georgia crime of false imprisonment includes a possible violation without the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force. In this respect, it is similar in nature to a white collar crime. Furthermore, it is not one of the enumerated violent offenses, so the residual clause is the only remaining category. There are two possible ways an offense can fall under the residual clause. The first is the categorical approach, under which a court must consider the elements of the offense. The second way is the modified categorical approach, which applies when some, but not all the violations of a particular statute will involve the requisite violence. The sentencing court applied the modified categorical approach and found the false imprisonment conviction was a crime of violence.

After reviewing the more recent U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis of the residual clause, the 11th Circuit found the Georgia false imprisonment did amount to a crime of violence under this analysis. In Sykes v. U.S., the Supreme Court concluded that risk level provided a better categorical standard then the purposeful, violent, and aggressive standard it set out in U.S. v. Begay two years earlier. Therefore, crimes qualify as crimes of violence under 4B1.2’s residual clause if they categorically pose a serious potential risk of physical injury that is similar to the risk posed by one of the enumerated crimes.

The 11th Circuit compared the risk of serious injury physical that the Georgia false imprisonment poses to that risk posed by the analogous offenses among the enumerated offenses. The court found that the Georgia false imprisonment creates risks that are similar to those created by burglary of a dwelling and is therefore a crime of violence.