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Seventh Circuit Vacates Sentence on Conflicting Findings in Davis

The district court accepted the findings of the presentence investigation report but then granted an above-guidelines sentence based on conflicting information.

Conflicting findings result in Seventh Circuit vacating sentence in Davis.

Davis Charged with Felon in Possession

Davis Tosses  Handgun

In June 2019, Chicago police were dispatched to investigate a report of shots fired. When officers arrived on the scene, they saw two cars had just collided. One of the cars had a bullet hole in its windshield and a shattered rear window. A bystander reported to police that one of the drivers had a gun.

As officers approached the scene, they saw Davis toss a handgun under a nearby parked car. Davis was determined to be the driver of one the car with bullet damage. Officers arrested Davis and recovered the firearm.

Davis Possibly Implicates Himself

While in jail, Davis called a third party and described what happened just prior to the crash. According to the government’s interpretation of the recorded call, Davis admitted that he had actively participated in the shoot-out.

Court Makes Conflicting Findings

Davis was indicted on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g). He pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, but Davis did not admit that he participated in the shooting. The PSR noted Davis’ incriminating phone call from the jail, but recommended against applying a sentencing enhancement for possessing the firearm in connection with another felony-i.e., the shooting.

Without any objections, the district court adopted the PSR’s findings. However, the government argued that the recorded phone call established Davis’ active participation in the shoot-out. The district judge agreed with the government and relied on that premise to impose an above-Guidelines sentence. Davis timely appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Davis' Appeal

On appeal, Davis argued that the district court committed procedural error by finding that Davis had participated in the shoot-out, and argued that the court’s sentence was based on a clearly erroneous finding of fact. The Seventh Circuit agreed that the sentence was procedurally flawed, “but it’s an odd sort of error grounded in conflicting cues from the government.”

First, without objections from the government, the district court accepted the probation officer’s determination that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that Davis possessed the firearm in connection with another felony. On that basis, the court declined to apply the 2K2.1(b)(6)(8) enhancement. But when evaluating the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), the judge accepted the government’s interpretation of the recorded jail call and found Davis was involved in the shooting.

The Conflicting Findings Cannot be Reconciled

The Seventh Circuit concluded these findings are contradictory, and the court could see no way to reconcile the inconsistency. Regardless of whether the error was classified as a defect in the judge’s fact-finding or an irregularity in the court’s explanation of the above-Guidelines sentence, the sentence rested on a significant procedural error.

The government advanced the argument that the PSR’s findings could be reconciled with the judge’s statements at sentence because a determination that Davis participated in the shoot-out does not also require a finding that he possessed the firearm in connection with another felony. But the government’s argument on appeal contradicted its argument before the district court-that Davis used the firearm during a shoot-out which is a felony in Illinois. The district court’s acceptance of the government’s argument directly conflicted with the PSR’s findings and recommendation-which the judge also adopted.

The Seventh Circuit Remands

The Seventh Circuit concluded that the record reflects an incomprehensible inconsistency in the factual findings on which the judge justified an above-Guidelines sentence. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit vacated Davis’ sentence and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing.

United States v. Davis, No. 21-1778 (7th Cir. 2022)

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