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U.S. v. HENRIQUEZ, NO. 13-4238

Decided: June 27, 2014

The Fourth Circuit vacated the Defendant’s enhanced sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing.

Henriquez, the Defendant, pled guilty to illegally reentering the United States (U.S.) in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b)(2).  Defendant’s pre-sentence report (PSR) listed his 2000 conviction for first-degree burglary in Maryland as a crime of violence.  Thus, the district court applied the sentencing enhancement to the Defendant’s sentence based on his PSR and sentenced Defendant to forty-one months’ imprisonment.  Defendant filed a timely appeal, arguing that a Maryland conviction for first-degree burglary did not qualify as a crime of violence, and, thus, did not allow for an enhancement of Defendant’s PSR.

The Fourth Circuit stated that a defendant previously convicted of a crime of violence is subject to a sentencing enhancement if the defendant is later convicted of illegally re-entering the U.S.  “Burglary of a dwelling” is specifically listed as a crime of violence under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.).  § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii).  However, the Fourth Circuit stated that a sentencing court must ascertain whether a defendant’s prior burglary conviction included an “unlawful or unprivileged entry into, or remaining in, a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime” before it can apply a sentencing enhancement.  Taylor v. U.S., 495 U.S. 575, 598 (1990).  Further, the burglary must have occurred in a “dwelling.”  U.S. v. Bonilla, 687 F.3d 188, 190 n.3 (4th Cir. 2012).  The Supreme Court’s definition of generic burglary excludes boats, motor vehicles, or any other enclosures from the term “dwelling.”  Shepard v. U.S., 544 U.S. 13, 16 (2005).  Federal courts cannot interpret a state statute differently from a state’s highest court.  Maryland’s criminal code does not define the meaning of dwelling under its robbery statutes.  However, Maryland’s highest court determined that the test for a dwelling is whether it is used regularly as a place to sleep.  Thus, Maryland’s statutory definition for “dwelling” is broader than the U.S. Supreme Court’s generic burglary definition.  The Fourth Circuit stated that it did not have the authority to place a limiting construction on the Maryland statute to exclude boats, motor vehicles, or other enclosures not covered by the federal definition of generic burglary.  The Court also noted that a “realistic probability” existed that Maryland would apply its first-degree burglary statute to conduct that falls outside of the U.S. Supreme Court’s generic definition of burglary.  The Fourth Circuit stated that a sentencing court is unable to determine whether a first-degree burglary in Maryland did not involve an excluded enclosure because federal courts are precluded from looking at the facts that underlie a prior conviction. Therefore, the district court erred by applying a sentencing enhancement to Defendant’s conviction.

Full Opinion

Alysja S. Garansi