7th Circuit Reverses Unwarranted Gun Sentence Enhancement


Katie Stancombe for www.theindianalawyer.com

The fact that drugs and guns were in the same place at the same time wasn’t enough to prove a man should have received a sentence enhancement for his convictions, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, finding no connection between his felony cocaine possession and firearms.

During a parole visit at Alandous Briggs’ home, Briggs was arrested after admitting that there were more than 10 ounces of marijuana, 0.45 grams of cocaine and three loaded firearms in his bedroom, where police found a measuring scale.

When Briggs petitioned to enter a plea of guilty for being a felon in possession of a firearm, he objected to the addition of a four-level enhancement under U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). That enhancement said he had committed a felony drug offense in connection with the firearm possession, but Briggs argued that the drugs had no connection to the firearm possession.

Southern District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt held that the enhancement applied, however, and ultimately sentenced Briggs to seven years in prison. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with that conclusion in the USA v. Alandous Briggs, 18-1415, finding issue with the fact that the district court never made any findings of how Briggs’ felony cocaine possession was connected to his firearms.

“It simply assumed that because the firearms were probably connected to drug trafficking (because of the combination of the cocaine, marijuana, and digital scale), they were probably connected to his mere possession of the cocaine. But that logic doesn’t hold up,” Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote. “Analyzing whether firearms are connected to drug trafficking is different from analyzing whether they are connected to possessing a small number of drugs.”

The 7th Circuit also noted that neither that the drug scale nor the amount of marijuana found in Briggs’ home bore directly on his cocaine possession.

“Instead, they go to whether he might have been dealing drugs. And the court’s vague suggestion that the guns might have been there ‘to protect something’ — apparently made in the context of drug trafficking — wouldn’t be enough to connect the guns to felony possession of cocaine even if that had been what the court was referring to,” Coney continued. “In short, the mere fact that guns and drugs are found near each other doesn’t establish a nexus between them. A court must say more to connect the two.”

Therefore, the 7th Circuit concluded the district court clearly erred in applying the § 2K2.1(b)(6) enhancement as its findings did not support a conclusion that Briggs’ firearms were connected to his possession of less than half a gram of cocaine. It subsequently vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing.