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U.S. v. AVILA, NO. 13-4606

Decided: November 14, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court and upheld an eight-level sentencing enhancement under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.”) based on Defendant’s prior first-degree burglary conviction. The Court concluded that Defendant’s prior conviction supported the enhancement because the crime was a crime of violence under California’s statute. The Court further concluded that the district court’s sentencing was procedurally adequate.

Defendant (“Avila”), a Mexico citizen, had a long history of illegally entering the United States and engaging in criminal activity while in the United States. Following a sentence for first-degree burglary in 1994 in California, Avila was removed to Mexico, but again reentered the United States, and was arrested in North Carolina where Avila was indicted by a federal grand jury for illegal reentry following an aggravated felony conviction. The United States Probation Office prepared a pre-sentence investigation report (“PSR”) and recommended an eight-level enhancement. Avila pleaded guilty to illegal entry, and the district court adopted the recommended guidelines range in the PSR.

On appeal, Avila challenged the district court classification of his first-degree California burglary conviction as an aggravated felony justifying an eight-level enhancement under the U.S.S.G. The Court rejected Avila’s argument. First, the Court noted that U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(C) provides an eight-level increase to the base offense level of any defendant who “previously was deported, or unlawfully remained in the United States, after . . . a conviction for an aggravated felony.” The Court then noted that the relevant statute defines “aggravated felony” by listing a series of qualifying offenses, including a “crime of violence.” Employing a categorical approach, and relying on Leocal v. Ashcroft, the Court concluded that California’s first-degree burglary qualifies as a crime of violence within the meaning of U.S.C. § 16(b), and therefore qualifies as an aggravated felony. 543 U.S. 1 (2004).

Separately, Avila argued that the district court district court failed to sufficiently individualize the assessment or address his “non frivolous argument for a below-guideline sentence.” The Court, however, held that the district court’s explanation of its sentencing was more than sufficient to preclude a finding of error. The Court similarly rejected Avila’s argument that the district court failed to address his non frivolous argument for a below-guideline sentence concluding that the district court made clear that it considered Avila’s personal history and characteristics.

Full Opinion

Abigail Forrister