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Fifth Circuit Holds District Court's Relevant Conduct Ruling Insufficient Stubblefield

The 5th Circuit indicated that there were no specific findings that warranted an increase to Stubblefield's guideline range under relevant conduct principles.

Stubblefield's Case and Sentencing

Stubblefield pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. At sentencing, when calculating the base offense level, the district court held Stubblefield responsible for all methamphetamine attributable to the conspiracy under U.S.S.G. 1B1.3. Stubblefield  appealed, arguing that the district court failed to make sufficient factual findings to support its relevant conduct findings.

About Relevant Conduct

The Sentencing Guidelines indicate that a person can be sentenced both for what they did and what can reasonably be attributed to them:

§1B1.3.     Relevant Conduct (Factors that Determine the Guideline Range)

(a)        Chapters Two (Offense Conduct) and Three (Adjustments).  Unless otherwise specified, (i) the base offense level where the guideline specifies more than one base offense level, (ii) specific offense characteristics and (iii) cross references in Chapter Two, and (iv) adjustments in Chapter Three, shall be determined on the basis of the following:

(1)       (A)       all acts and omissions committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused by the defendant; and

(B)      in the case of a jointly undertaken criminal activity (a criminal plan, scheme, endeavor, or enterprise undertaken by the defendant in concert with others, whether or not charged as a conspiracy), all acts and omissions of others that were—

(i)      within the scope of the jointly undertaken criminal activity,
(ii)      in furtherance of that criminal activity, and
(iii)      reasonably foreseeable in connection with that criminal activity;

that occurred during the commission of the offense of conviction, in preparation for that offense, or in the course of attempting to avoid detection or responsibility for that offense;

This is commonly referred to as relevant conduct.  Specific findings are required in order to use relevant conduct in order to increase a person's guideline range.

Application of Relevant Conduct to Stubblefield's Case

In order to hold Stubblefield accountable for the 630 grams of methamphetamine involved in the conspiracy, the district court was required to make specific findings that the acts and omissions of the others involved constituted relevant conduct-that is, that the other transactions were within the scope of a joint criminal activity, in furtherance of that activity, and reasonably foreseeable to Stubblefield.

At sentencing, the district court determined that the entire 630 grams of methamphetamine attributed to the conspiracy was reasonably foreseeable to Stubblefield, but the court failed to make specific findings concerning the scope of the criminal activity, or whether the entire amount of methamphetamine was within that scope or in furtherance of that activity.

Additionally, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court’s rationale for its relevant conduct determination was not implicit in its adoption of the presentence report, which did not make factual findings that would allow making Stubblefield accountable for jointly undertaken criminal activity.

Because the district court’s reasoning was not apparent from the record, the Fifth Circuit held it could not speculate as to the rationale for its relevant conduct determination. Accordingly, the court vacated Stubblefield’s sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing.

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