United States v. Stowell (8th Cir. July 2022)

The Federal Docket

August 8, 2022

Christopher Stowell pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was treated as a career offender pursuant to the ACCA. Two of the three predicate offenses used to enhance his sentence had been charged in the same indictment, resulting in convictions on the same date. In determining whether the two offenses occurred “on occasions different from one another,” the district court relied exclusively on information contained in the PSR—that they had occurred 3 days apart and against separate victims.

On appeal, Stowell argued that the district court improperly relied on facts—which had not been submitted to a jury or found beyond a reasonable doubt—to increase his statutory maximum, running afoul of the Sixth Amendment and Apprendi. The Eighth Circuit rejected the argument, finding it to be bound by existing precedent in the Circuit that authorized a district court’s consideration of “recidivism-related facts” not found by a jury. Although Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence in Wooden had called the constitutionality of this practice into question, the decision itself did not overrule it. Thus, the argument was foreclosed by existing Eighth Circuit case law.

The dissent agreed with the majority in this regard. However, the Wooden decision had resolved a circuit split regarding how courts should conduct the “different occasion” analysis. Since that decision was issued while the instant case was pending on appeal, the dissent would remand the case for the sentencing court to reconsider its factual conclusion(s) in light of the Supreme Court’s new guidance.

Appeal from the Western District of Arkansas
Opinion by Kobes, joined by Loken
Dissent by Kelly

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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