United States v. Spence, No. 10-4184

Decided: Nov. 21, 2011

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Troy Spence’s sentence for possession of child pornography, enhanced based on his prior conviction under South Carolina common law for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (ABHAN). The ABHAN enhancement applies when a defendant has been convicted under a state law relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor. At the sentencing hearing, the district court agreed that Spence’s prior ABHAN conviction did not necessarily relate to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct with a minor, so the district court reviewed the indictment charging Spence with a violation of ABHAN. Because the indictment “specifically state[d]” that the “offense involved the sexual assault of a female,” that, therefore, the ABHAN conviction qualified as a predicate offense under the sexual abuse enhancement.

The Fourth Circuit held the modified categorical approach was appropriate in this situation, and that the indictment charging Spence with ABHAN was a reliable document to consider in determining the nature of his conviction. Therefore, the Court held that Spence’s ABHAN conviction qualified as a predicate offense under the sentencing enhancement statute and that Spence was subject to the minimum statutory sentence of ten years’ imprisonment under the sexual abuse enhancement, and affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Full Opinion

-Sara I. Salehi

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