United States v. Hannah Patch (1st Cir. August 2021)

The Federal Docket

September 8, 2021

Drug Offenses/Sentencing – Under USSG 2D1.8(a), defendant’s knowledge of an underlying drug offense and mere presence during such an offense is insufficient to find they “participated” in the drug offense.

Hannah Patch pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug involved premises after she was charged with allowing her boyfriend to use her apartment as a “base of operations for his drug-trafficking activities.” She appealed her sentence after the district court applied a higher offense level under USSG 2D1.8(a) based on finding that she had participated in the drug activities beyond simply providing a premises. Specifically, the district court relied on the factual basis for the plea which stated that Patch had accompanied her boyfriend some some of his trips to restock his drug inventory.

The First Circuit held that this was insufficient to find that Patch participated in the underlying drug offense and vacated her sentence. The Court declined to hold for the first time whether government or defendant have the burden of establishing the proper offense level under 2D1.8(a) based on the government’s concession that the government bore the burden in this case.

The Court noted that, on her trips accompanying her boyfriend, the record did not indicate that Patch did anything to further the drug operation, such as acting as lookout or driving the car. Accordingly, “mere presence at the scene of criminal activity is insufficient to show participation.” Nor, the Court added, is simple knowledge of the drug offense.

Citing recent Supreme Court precedent, the Court held that the importance of calculating the Guidelines range accurately warranted a remand for resentencing.

Appeal from the District of Maine
Opinion by Selya, joined by Kayatta and Barron

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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