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Sentencing Guidelines


Sentencing Guidelines


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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: United States of America v. Christopher Johnson

Case No.: 22-3221

Officials: Easterbrook, Ripple, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Sentencing Guidelines

Johnson, the defendant, was charged and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. His crimes involved purchasing stolen credit card data and using it to create counterfeit cards. During sentencing, the district court calculated the loss under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1, relying on guidelines commentary to impose a minimum loss of $500 for each card. Johnson contested this approach, arguing that the guidelines commentary did not merit deference as an interpretation of § 2B1.1, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor v. Wilkie.

Despite Johnson’s objection, the district court ruled against him, finding the term “loss” in § 2B1.1 sufficiently ambiguous and supporting the $500 minimum loss assessment as reasonable. The court added that even without deferring to the guidelines commentary, it would have independently determined the loss per card to be $500. Johnson received a sentence of 58 months’ imprisonment: 34 months for wire fraud and a mandatory 24 months for aggravated identity theft.

On appeal, Johnson continued to challenge the district court’s reliance on the guidelines commentary. However, the appeals court affirmed the district court’s decision. It held that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kisor v. Wilkie did not overturn the precedent established in Stinson v. United States, which deems guidelines commentary authoritative unless it conflicts with the Constitution, federal statute, or presents a plainly erroneous reading of the guideline in question. Therefore, the court concluded that the guidelines commentary prescribing a minimum loss of $500 per credit card remained binding under Stinson.


Decided 06/18/24

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