United States v. Chandia, No. 11-4323

Decided: April 6, 2012

Ali Asad Chandia was convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339A, and conspiring to and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B.  When sentencing Chandia, the District Court applied the sentencing enhancement for a “federal crime of terrorism” under Guidelines 3A1.4 (hereinafter “the terrorism enhancement”), which increased the Guidelines range for Chandia’s convictions from 63 to 78 months to 360 months to life. The District Court ultimately sentenced Chandia to 180 months in prison.

This is the third time Chandia has challenged the application of the terrorism enhancement and his resulting 180-month sentence. This Court remanded the case on Chandia’s first appeal, directing the sentencing court to determine whether Chandia had the requisite intent that is a required element of the terrorism enhancement, and to clearly outline the facts that support its conclusion. The terrorism enhancement requires that “the underlying felony [must have been] calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” As such, “the court must resolve any factual disputes that it deems relevant to application of the enhancement.” After the District Court failed to fully resolve the factual disputes or sufficiently explain the factual support for its conclusion that Chandia possessed the requisite intent, Chandia appealed a second time, and this Court again remanded for resentencing.  On this third appeal, the Court finds that the sentencing court sufficiently clarified its factual findings and explained how specific facts support the conclusion that Chandia possessed the requisite intent, such that the terrorism enhancement is applicable.

On this appeal, Chandia broadly contends that the District Court erroneously applied the terrorism enhancement, and that even if the enhancement applies his sentence as augmented under the enhancement was unwarranted. The Court applied the clear error standard of review in assessing the Guidelines enhancement, which only requires reversal where the court is “left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed,” and reviewed the reasonableness of Chandia’s sentence for abuse of discretion.

The Court addressed each of Chandia’s specific contentions in turn. First, the Court held that “a preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard of proof for establishing the requisite intent for the terrorism enhancement.” In this case that standard was satisfied. Secondly, the Court found that the District Court’s factual findings were not clearly erroneous, explaining that the facts in dispute lent themselves to more than one possible finding and “[w]here there are two permissible views of the evidence, the [court’s] choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.” Furthermore, the Court found that the factual findings were sufficient to establish the intent necessary to apply the terrorism enhancement. Finally, the Court found that there were no procedural errors committed by the lower court. Specifically, the District Court did accord Chandia and his attorney the opportunity to speak on Chandia’s behalf, and did sufficiently consider the mitigating circumstances, Chandia’s various objections to its factual findings, and the relevant sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) in fashioning Chandia’s sentence.

Full Opinion

-Kassie Moore

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