United States v. Bonilla, No. 11-4765

Decided: July 17, 2012

In this case, the court assessed whether or not a state burglary statute “substantially correspond[ed]” to the generic definition of burglary outlined by the Supreme Court in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), and thus constituted a “crime of violence” for sentence-enhancement purposes.  The Fourth Circuit held that, because the statute at issue required proof of an unlawful entry into a building or habitation and the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault, Bonilla’s prior conviction under the statute qualified as a “crime of violence” for sentencing purposes.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed district court’s sentencing judgment.

Bonilla pleaded guilty to a one-count indictment charging him with knowingly entering the United States without the consent after having been previously excluded, deported, or removed, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326.  The presentence report (“PSI”) prepared in the matter recommended a sixteen-level increase to Bonilla’s base offense level pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A) because Bonilla had previously convicted of a crime of violence, burglary of a habitation.  The district court accepted the recommendation and sentenced Bonilla to 37 months’ imprisonment. Bonilla timely appealed.

Bonilla argued that his state conviction did not satisfy the definition of generic burglary under Taylor, and thus it does not constitute a crime of violence.  In Taylor, the Court found that the Armed Career Criminal Act’s (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e), provision regarding “violent felonies” encompassed burglary.  The Court emphasized that the modern uniform definition of burglary is any unlawful or unprivileged entries into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime, or anything that “substantially corresponds” to the definition.  The Fourth Circuit adopted this analysis for purposes of interpreting “crime of violence.”   The statute under which Bonilla was originally convicted makes it a crime to enter a building or habitation without the consent of the owner in order to commit or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or assault.  Bonilla conceded that this conviction included the Taylor elements, but argued that it does not require that the intent to commit a crime exist at the time of entry.  The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the statute “substantially correspond[ed]” to Taylor’s generic definition of burglary because it required proof of an unlawful entry into a building or habitation and the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.  Accordingly, Bonilla’s prior conviction qualified as a “crime of violence” for sentencing purposes, notwithstanding that Bonilla might not have formulated his intent prior to the unlawful entry. The Fourth Circuit affirmed district court’s sentencing judgment.

Chief Judge Traxler dissented on the basis that Texas Penal Code section 30.02(a)(3) did not constitute a crime of violence under U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2.  Traxler reasoned that Bonilla’s conviction did not include a critical Taylor element — that a defendant’s intent to commit a crime exist contemporaneously with the unlawful entry or unlawful remaining.

Full Opinion

-Michelle Theret

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