USA v. Christopher Williams
OPINION filed : the district court's sentence is AFFIRMED, decision not for publication. Gilbert S. Merritt, Deborah L. Cook (authoring) and Helene N. White, Circuit Judges.
Case: 09-2236 Document: 006110933361 Filed: 04/20/2011 Page: 1
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 11a0253n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Apr 20, 2011
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL WILLIAMS,
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Before: MERRITT, COOK, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.
COOK, Circuit Judge. Christopher Williams pleaded guilty to a single-count superseding
information charging him with interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises. Alleging that the
district court clearly erred in rejecting his unopposed request for a three-level mitigating-role
reduction, Williams appeals his sentence. We affirm.
In early 2009, Williams borrowed his mother’s car and drove his friend Raymond Collins
from Chicago to Benton Harbor, Michigan in exchange for “a couple hundred bucks” and a tank of
gas. Williams was aware that Collins wanted to go to Michigan to distribute drugs, though he did
not know the type or quantity. When police pulled Williams’s car over for a traffic violation, he
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United States v. Williams
consented to a vehicular search. The officers discovered nearly 150 grams of heroin underneath the
rear seat cushion and arrested Williams and Collins.
The government first indicted the pair for (1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent
to distribute heroin and (2) possession with intent to distribute heroin. It later filed a superceding
information further charging them with interstate travel in aid of racketeering enterprises. Williams
pleaded guilty to the last charge pursuant to a plea agreement.
Williams’s Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”) calculated a guidelines range of 33–41
months, based upon an adjusted offense level of twenty and Williams’s one criminal-history point.
The calculation included a three-level intermediate-role reduction pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2. At
sentencing, the court rejected the proposal and instead applied a two-level minor-role reduction. It
offered the following explanation:
This Court is of a mind to believe that rather than a three-level, a two-level
downward departure is more appropriate; that is, a minor participant, based upon
three factors. One is the length of time that was involved in this matter. This was
a matter that involved not only planning to come to Michigan, but driving to
Michigan. The payment for participation, $300, but it certainly was payment for
doing something really kind of out of proportion with what was done. And the drugs
were found apparently under the seats in the back seat of the vehicle.
Now, the vehicle apparently belonged to Mr. Williams’[s] mother, and Mr.
Williams was using this vehicle. Now, that is not a minimal participant, nor is it a
halfway. It’s a minor participant. This person is not the one that physically put it in
the car, was not the one that physically made the arrangements, was not the one who
physically paid for someone to drive him. But this Court believes that consistent
with other situations that the presentence officers face on a regular basis and
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United States v. Williams
consistent with this Court’s adjudications in the past, a minor participant role should
be had in this case.
Williams immediately objected to this determination. After applying a handful of other, uncontested
departures, the court arrived at an adjusted offense level of nineteen, resulting in a guidelines range
of 30–36 months.1 It sentenced Williams to thirty-six months. Williams now appeals.
Generally,“[t]his Court reviews a district court’s legal conclusions regarding the Sentencing
Guidelines de novo” and its factual findings for clear error,2 United States v. Galloway, 439 F.3d
320, 322 (6th Cir. 2006), though certain exceptions apply. “We review the district court’s denial of
[a § 3B1.2] reduction for clear error.” United States v. Latouf, 132 F.3d 320, 332 (6th Cir. 1997);
see also United States v. Garcia-Morones, 49 F. App’x 556, 557 (6th Cir. 2002) (explaining this
court’s adoption of clear-error review of § 3B1.2 issues in light of Buford v. United States, 532 U.S.
59 (2001)). The defendant bears the burden to prove, “by a preponderance of the evidence, that he
is entitled to the reduction.” United States v. Solorio, 337 F.3d 580, 601 (6th Cir. 2003).
The correct Guidelines range is actually 30–37 months, but the Government recognizes that
the district court’s mistake inured to Williams’s benefit.
“A finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing
court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948).
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United States v. Williams
Section 3B1.2 allows a sentencing court to grant a two-, three-, or four-level reduction to a
defendant who is “substantially less culpable than the average participant.” U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2 cmt.
n.3(A). Four-level reductions apply to “minimal participants,” “who are plainly among the least
culpable of those involved in the conduct of a group,” as demonstrated by their “lack of knowledge
or understanding of the scope and structure of the enterprise and of the activities of others,” id. cmt.
n.4; two-level adjustments apply to “minor participants,” “who [are] less culpable than most other
participants, but whose role could not be described as minimal,” id. cmt. n.5; and three-level
reductions are appropriate for cases “falling between” these two regions, id.
Williams concedes that “[t]he criteria for qualifying for a three-level reduction are vague.”
Nonetheless, the district court appeared to apply them as transparently as possible. Consistent with
U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2’s commentary, the court considered Williams’s knowledge, planning, and
participation in the distribution.
And, the evidentiary record supports the court’s factual
determinations regarding Williams’s knowledge of Collins’s intent, Williams’s role in securing the
car, and his compensation for participating. All of this forecloses a “definite and firm conviction that
a mistake has been committed,” see U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. at 395, in the court’s factual
determinations and in its application of § 3B1.2 to those determinations.
For these reasons, we affirm the district court’s sentence.
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