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“Serious Violent Felony”-Sentencing


“Serious Violent Felony”-Sentencing


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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: United States of America v. Anthony Pemberton

Case No.: 21-3224

Officials: Brennan, Scudder, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

Focus: “Serious Violent Felony”-Sentencing

Pemberton admitted to selling methamphetamine to an undercover informant and subsequently pleaded guilty to drug distribution under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). Typically, distributing the quantity of drugs he confessed to carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. However, the district court determined that his 2003 conviction for conspiracy to commit robbery under Indiana law qualified as a “serious violent felony” under 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F), subjecting him to a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. It’s worth noting that Pemberton had not specifically agreed to his co-participant carrying a weapon, and his co-participant had never been convicted. Nonetheless, the court reasoned that the circumstances of the crime involved a dangerous weapon that caused serious harm (as Pemberton’s coconspirator had discharged a firearm during the robbery, injuring a bystander). Moreover, Pemberton’s guilty plea to conspiracy to commit armed robbery prevented him from disavowing his involvement in the conspiracy.

Upon appeal, Pemberton contended that Indiana’s crime of conspiracy did not categorically align with the federal conspiracy counterpart specified in 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F) and therefore did not qualify as a “serious violent felony” warranting the enhanced minimum sentence. However, the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. Pemberton had not raised this argument until the appeal stage, and as a result, he had forfeited it. Furthermore, he failed to demonstrate that the district court had plainly erred when determining that his previous conviction constituted a “serious violent felony.”


Decided 11/01/23

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