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United States v. Rangel-Castaneda, No. 12-4408

Decided: March 7, 2013

The Fourth Circuit held that convictions under Tennessee’s statutory rape statute, which sets the age of consent at eighteen, do not categorically qualify for the crime-of-violence sentencing enhancement established at U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii).

At the age of fifteen the defendant, who was born in Mexico, settled illegally in Tennessee.  In April 2009, Rangel was convicted in Tennessee state court of “aggravated statutory rape” for having sex with his then sixteen-year-old girlfriend, who was twelve years his junior.  The victim stated that she willingly participated in the relationship and that Rangel thought she was eighteen.  Rangel received a suspended two-year prison sentence.  Rangel was subsequently convicted of illegal reentry in federal district court and again deported to Mexico in September 2009.  Once more Rangel returned to the United States unlawfully, this time settling in North Carolina.  In 2010, he was convicted in state court of driving while impaired and failing to register as a sex offender.  Rangel was then indicted in federal court for one count of illegal reentry by an alien who was removed after an aggravated felony conviction.  He pleaded guilty in June 2011.  At a sentencing hearing, the district court held that Rangel’s Tennessee statutory rape conviction constituted a “crime of violence” pursuant to the sentencing enhancement codified at U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii).

In Taylor v. United States, the Supreme Court held that where Congress has not indicated how a prior offense enumerated in a sentencing enhancement statute is to be interpreted, it should be understood to refer to the “generic, contemporary meaning” of the crime.  The age of consent is central to the conception of statutory rape in every jurisdiction.  The majority of American jurisdictions set the general age of consent at sixteen years old, while Tennessee sets the age of consent at eighteen years old.  The Fourth Circuit concluded that the “generic, contemporary meaning” of the term “statutory rape” in U.S..S.G.. § 2L1.2 is sixteen.   Tennessee’s higher age of consent is overbroad and thus does not qualify for the crime-of-violence sentencing enhancement.  The Fourth Circuit also refused to affirm the sentencing enhancement on the alternative basis that a statutory rape conviction constitutes a “forcible sex offense” or an “aggravated-felony” under the Tennessee statute.

Full Opinion

-Jenna Hendricks