USA v. James Wilson
OPINION filed : Because the district court improperly scored Wilson's obstruction offenses as a crime of violence, we VACATE and REMAND for resentencing, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Eugene E. Siler , Jr., Circuit Judge; Deborah L. Cook, Authoring Circuit Judge and George C. Steeh, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a1050n.06
Oct 05, 2012
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
JAMES JAMAR WILSON,
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Before: SILER and COOK, Circuit Judges; and STEEH, District Judge.*
COOK, Circuit Judge. James Jamar Wilson, who pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm
during a drug trafficking offense, appeals the district court’s application of the career offender
enhancement to his sentence. He argues that his previous conviction for obstructing a police officer
under Michigan Compiled Laws § 750.81d(1) does not qualify as a predicate “crime of violence.”
We agree and VACATE the district court’s sentencing judgment.
The career offender enhancement requires two predicate offenses, consisting of either
“crime[s] of violence” or drug-related crimes. See U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a). Wilson admits one
predicate offense, but objects that his obstruction conviction does not qualify as a crime of violence.
During sentencing, the government produced Wilson’s plea colloquy for the obstruction offense,
*The Honorable George C. Steeh, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan,
sitting by designation.
United States v. Wilson
which revealed that Wilson disobeyed a traffic officer’s command to stop his vehicle. Relying on
the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sykes v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2267 (2011), the district
court deemed Wilson’s admitted vehicular flight—which resulted in Wilson’s obstruction
conviction—a crime of violence and applied the career offender enhancement to Wilson’s
Wilson appeals, arguing that his obstruction conviction (i) differs from the vehicular-flight
conviction at issue in Sykes, and (ii) falls short of the “crime of violence” standard. We agree on
both counts because the government concedes the first (Gov’t Br. at 20), and we adopted the second
in United States v. Mosley, 575 F.3d 603, 608 (6th Cir. 2009) (concluding that an obstruction
conviction under § 750.81d(1) for knowing failure to comply with an officer’s lawful command is
not a “crime of violence”). Nevertheless, the government argues that Sykes supports the district
court’s judgment by broadening the definition of “crime of violence” to include vehicular flight.
Further, the government relies on the plain-error standard, arguing that Wilson failed to object to the
district court’s scoring of his obstruction conviction as a crime of violence. Both government
arguments lack merit.
Beginning with the standard of review, we find that Wilson’s attorney properly objected to
classifying the obstruction offense as a crime of violence for purposes of the career offender
Guidelines. Though not the clearest of arguments, counsel repeatedly distinguished the Sykes
defendant’s predicate crime, which fell under Indiana’s vehicular-flight statute, from Wilson’s,
United States v. Wilson
which happened to involve vehicular flight but fell under Michigan’s non-vehicular-flight statute.
(R. 35, Sent’g Tr. at 7 (emphasizing that Wilson pleaded guilty to “assaulting, battering, resisting,
obstructing, or opposing [an officer],” and not to a vehicular fleeing-and-eluding charge).) Given
the context, defense counsel clearly stated Wilson’s opposition to counting the obstruction
conviction toward the career-offender enhancement, preserving our de novo review of the district
court’s judgment.1 See, e.g., United States v. Wynn, 579 F.3d 567, 570 (6th Cir. 2009).
Turning to the merits, nothing in Sykes undermines the Mosley court’s conclusion that an
obstruction offense under § 750.81d(1) falls short of the crime-of-violence bar. Sykes held that a
violation of Indiana’s vehicular-flight statute categorically qualifies as a “violent felony” for
purposes of sentencing enhancements under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).
Sykes, 131 S.Ct. at 2277. The government correctly notes that Sykes focused on the residual clause
of 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), which, like the virtually identical definition of “crime of violence”
in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a), asks whether the predicate offense “involves conduct that presents a serious
potential risk of physical injury to another.” Sykes, 131 S. Ct. at 2272–74. Yet, Sykes offers no
guidance on how to treat an obstruction offense under § 750.81d(1).
That is Wilson’s crime: obstruction and/or resistance. Wilson’s underlying conduct—his
vehicular flight detailed in the plea colloquy—does not support a conviction of any other offenses
Even if defense counsel failed to object to scoring the obstruction offense as a “crime of
violence,” we held in United States v. Gibbs that such a misclassification constitutes plain error.
626 F.3d 344, 356 (6th Cir. 2010).
United States v. Wilson
that would qualify as “crimes of violence” under § 750.81d(1): assault, battery, wounding, opposing,
or endangering. Michigan law defines obstruction to include “a knowing failure to comply with a
lawful command,” Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.81d(7)(a), which Mosley correctly observed
encompassed such non-violent infractions as “refusing to produce information” and “ignoring an
officer’s command not to cross the street,” 575 F.3d at 607. These examples illustrate that, even
after Sykes, § 750.81d(1) encompasses conduct that lacks an inherent risk of physical injury.
As the government concedes (Gov’t Br. at 16), it matters not how Wilson committed his
obstruction crime. In United States v. Ford, 560 F.3d 420, 422 (6th Cir. 2009), we explained that
we apply a categorical approach that focuses on the statutory definition of the crime and not the
underlying conduct that resulted in the conviction. And to the extent the statute allows for both
violent and non-violent crimes, we consult Shepard documents “to see if they ‘necessarily’ establish
the nature of the prior offense.” Id. (citing Shepard v. United States, 544 U.S. 13, 26 (2005)).
Wilson did not plead guilty to a crime of vehicular flight, and the government cannot punish him as
though he did. See United States v. McMurray, 653 F.3d 367, 377 (6th Cir. 2011) (relying on
Shepard documents to determine which section of a Tennessee assault statute the defendant pleaded
guilty to); Gibbs, 626 F.3d at 355 (same, § 750.81d). Because the district court improperly scored
Wilson’s obstruction offense as a crime of violence, we VACATE and REMAND for resentencing.
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