Decided: June 10, 2013
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that a diversionary disposition, in which a court sentences a criminal defendant but does not formally enter judgment against him, is a predicate conviction for the purposes of a sentencing enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (the “USSG”).
Ever Enrique Medina, a citizen of El Salvador, pled guilty to possession of a concealed weapon and possession of Marijuana in 2004. In that case, the judge issued a “probation before judgment” diversionary disposition, sentencing Medina to eighteen months of probation without entering judgment. In 2007, Medina was convicted for driving under the influence, triggering his deportation to El Salvador. Subsequently, Medina illegally reentered the United States, and was arrested in September of 2008 for driving without a valid license. He was sentenced to sixty days in jail. In 2010, Medina pled guilty to second-degree assault, stemming from an altercation in a bar where Medina alleged threatened a security officer with a knife. After sentencing on the assault charge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detained Medina, and a federal grand jury indicted Medina for unlawful reentry after removal under the Untied States Code. Although Medina did not contest the finding, he argued that his 2004 probation-before-judgment disposition was not a “conviction,” and thus, did not trigger a sentencing enhancement under the USSG. The district court rejected Medina’s argument, and sentenced him to thirty months in prison.
On appeal, Medina argued that the district court erred in applying the enhancement because under Maryland law, a diversionary disposition is not a conviction. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that federal law applied absent a clear indication in the USSG that state law should apply. Under federal law, the court called it “beyond dispute” that the term “conviction” under the USSG includes guilty pleas followed by an entry of judgment. The court found that by not entering judgment, Medina’s 2004 guilty plea was not transformed into something other than a conviction for the purposes of the USSG. Furthermore, other immigration laws under the United States code provide that a conviction includes diversionary dispositions where “adjudication of guilty has been withheld.” Finally, the Fourth Circuit noted that its decision was consistent with all other circuits facing the issue. Therefore, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s sentence of thirty months in prison.
– Wesley B. Lambert