Skip to main content
Photo of a Law Library

United States v. Torres-Miguel, No. 11-4891

Decided: December 13, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the district court ruling that the defendant’s previous state conviction of a criminal threat was a “prior crime of violence,” justifying an enhancement of his sentence. The court remanded the case for resentencing consistent with the opinion

Jesus Miguel-Torres plead guilty to one count of illegal reentry by and aggravated felon, in violation of 8 United States Code Sections 1326(a) and 1326(b)(2) (2006).  Torres-Miguel had a prior conviction under California Penal Code Section 422(a), which made it a felony to willfully threaten to commit a crime that would result in death or bodily injury.  There were no facts with regards to the prior conviction.  Because of this conviction, Torres-Miguel’s probation officer recommended in the presentencing report (“PSR”) a sixteen-level increase to Miguel’s base offense level.  The district court determined that Torres-Miguel’s threat conviction categorically constituted a crime of violence, justifying sentence enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. This enhancement increased Torres-Miguel’s Guidelines sentencing range from fifteen to twenty-one months to fifty-seven to seventy-one months.  The PSR miscalculated lower end of the enhanced range, which should have been fifty-one months.  The district court then sentenced Torres-Miguel to fifty-one months.  From that sentence, Torres-Miguel appealed.

The Fourth Circuit reviewed de novo the question of whether the prior threat conviction constituted a prior crime of violence requiring sentence enhancement under the Guidelines.  To answer all questions regarding predicate crimes of violence, the Court follows a categorical approach, which “look[s] only to the statutory definition of the state crime and the fact of conviction to determine whether the conduct criminalized by the statute, including the most innocent conduct, qualifies as a ‘crime of violence’.”  The Guidelines define a prior crime of violence as “any other offense . . . that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.  When looking at the California statute, the Court concluded that no part of the statue necessarily includes the use or threatened use of physical force to accomplish the result. A person could threaten a crime that results in death or bodily injury without threatening to use physical force.  While this would be a violation of 422(a), it would not qualify for enhancement under the Guidelines.  For this reason, the Court held that Torres-Miguel’s sixteen-level enhancement could not stand.

Full Opinion

-Jonathan M. Riddle