USA v. Tyler Hamilton
Per Curiam OPINION filed: AFFIRMED; decision not for publication. R. Guy Cole , Jr., Circuit Judge; Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge and Benita Y. Pearson, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0036n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Jan 16, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF
BEFORE: COLE and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; PEARSON, District Judge.*
Pursuant to a binding plea agreement that mandated a sentence of 60 to 120 months,
defendants Tyler Hamilton pleaded guilty to distributing heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1). The district court determined that, based on the amount of heroin involved in the
offense, Hamilton’s base offense level was 28. The court added two levels under U.S.S.G.
§ 2D1.1(b)(1) because Hamilton possessed a dangerous weapon and two levels under
§ 2D1.1(b)(2) for Hamilton’s use of violence. The court determined, however, that Hamilton
was ultimately subject to a base offense level of 38 under the cross-reference in § 2D1.1(d)(1)
because he killed a victim under circumstances that would constitute second-degree murder
under 18 U.S.C. § 1111 had the killing taken place in a federal jurisdiction. The district court
subtracted three levels for acceptance of responsibility, resulting in a total offense level of 35.
The Honorable Benita Y. Pearson, United States District Judge for the Northern District of
Ohio, sitting by designation.
United States v. Hamilton
Based on the total offense level of 35 and a criminal history category of II, Hamilton’s guidelines
range of imprisonment was 188 to 235 months. The district court sentenced him to 120 months
in prison. Hamilton now appeals his sentence.
On appeal, Hamilton makes the following arguments: (1) the district court erred by using
the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard to determine whether he committed murder for
purposes of the cross-reference in § 2D1.1(d)(1); (2) the evidence did not support application of
the cross-reference under any standard; and (3) the district court miscalculated the drug quantity
attributable to him and erred by applying the two-level enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(2).
Because Hamilton did not argue in the district court that it was error to employ the
preponderance-of-the-evidence standard in connection with the cross-reference in § 2D1.1(d)(1),
we review the claim for plain error. See United States v. Morgan, 687 F.3d 688, 694 (6th Cir.
2012). The district court did not plainly err by employing the preponderance-of-the-evidence
standard because, as we have previously held, it was not required to use a higher standard. See
United States v. Brika, 487 F.3d 450, 461-62 (6th Cir. 2007) (“Thus, . . . we reaffirm our earlier
holding that due process does not require sentencing courts to employ a standard higher than
preponderance-of-the-evidence, even in cases dealing with large enhancements”); United States
v. Gates, 461 F.3d 703, 708 (6th Cir. 2006). (“We find that the district court committed no Fifth
or Sixth Amendment violation when it used the preponderance of the evidence standard.”).
Hamilton next argues that, under any standard, the evidence did not support application
of the cross-reference in § 2D1.1(d)(1). When reviewing a district court’s application of the
sentencing guidelines, we review legal conclusions de novo and factual findings for clear error.
United States v. McCloud, 730 F.3d 600, 605 (6th Cir. 2013).
The cross-reference in
§ 2D1.1(d)(1) applies if a victim was killed under circumstances that would constitute murder
United States v. Hamilton
under 18 U.S.C. § 1111 had the killing occurred in a federal jurisdiction.
The district court did not clearly err by concluding that Hamilton shot and killed the
victim after their altercation had ended and the victim was lying on the ground outside of
Hamilton’s vehicle. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecution presented evidence that a witness
saw Hamilton and the victim engaging in an altercation in Hamilton’s vehicle. After the victim
was ejected from the vehicle, the witness saw Hamilton fire three shots at the victim while he
was on the ground trying to roll away from Hamilton. In addition, the district court’s findings
were consistent with other evidence in the record, including the trajectory of the fatal shot, the
lack of soot or stippling on the victim, and the pristine condition of a bullet found at the scene.
Based on the district court’s factual findings, it properly determined that Hamilton did not act in
self-defense and that he committed second-degree murder for purposes of the cross-reference in
§ 2D1.1(d)(1). See 18 U.S.C. § 1111(a).
Finally, as Hamilton concedes, in his briefing on appeal, his challenges to the drug
quantity determination and two-level enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(2) are moot, given that the
district court properly concluded that he was subject to a higher offense level under the cross
reference in § 2D1.1(d)(1).
Accordingly, we affirm Hamilton’s sentence.
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