United States v. Hargrove, No. 11-4818

Decided: December 12, 2012

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Hargrove’s sixty-month sentence for selling an animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture in violation of 7 U.S.C. § 2156. Although the judge improperly calculated the sentencing guidelines as to at least two sentencing enhancements, the Fourth Circuit determined that the sentence should be affirmed under the assumed error harmlessness inquiry.

The investigation of Hargrove began with complaints that Hargrove was involved in dogfighting.  The investigation revealed that Hargrove was a “legend” in dogfighting that had been involved in dogfighting activity for over forty years, and had three prior related convictions.  Hargrove eventually sold an American Pit Bull Terrier to an undercover informant after a demonstration fight.  Pursuant to a search warrant law enforcement seized 34 dogs, which had to be euthanized because of poor health and/or aggressive tendencies.  The search also revealed tools and indicia of the dogfighting trade including a fighting pit covered in blood.

Under the assumed error harmlessness inquiry, there must be “(1) knowledge that the district court would have reached the same result even if it had decided the guidelines issue the other way, and (2) a determination that the sentence would be reasonable even if the guidelines issue had been decided in the defendant’s favor.”  The first step is clearly met, as the district court expressly stated it “would have sentenced Hargrove to sixty months even if the guideline range was 0-6 months.”    The Fourth Circuit also concludes that the second step is met.  The sentence is reasonable given the nature, circumstances, and seriousness of the offense, the need for deterrence, and to provide just punishment.

Full Opinion

-Jenna Hendricks

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