By Taylor Ey

On April 15, 2015, the Fourth Circuit issued its published opinion in United States v. Flores-Granados.  The appellant, Marlon Flores-Granados, appealed the decision of the lower court, alleging that he was improperly given a 16-level enhancement based on a prior conviction.  The Fourth Circuit sided with the appellee, the United States government, holding that under North Carolina law, second degree kidnapping constitutes a “crime of violence,” thus affirming the district court’s enhanced sentencing of Flores-Granados based on his prior conviction.

Origin of “Crime of Violence”

Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Sentencing Guidelines”), a defendant previously deported after a conviction for a “crime of violence,” and having unlawfully returned to the United States, is subject to an enhancement of either 12 or 16 levels depending on whether the conviction receives criminal history points.  U.S.S.G. § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii).  The Application notes to the Sentencing Guidelines refer to kidnapping as a crime of violence.

On appeal, Flores-Granados argued that, under North Carolina law, his prior conviction for second degree kidnapping did not constitute a “crime of violence.”  Applying the categorical approach outlined by the Supreme Court in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), the Fourth Circuit held that second degree kidnapping is a crime of violence within the meaning of the Sentencing Guidelines.

Applying Supreme Court Precedent to Second Degree Kidnapping Under NC Law

Under the categorial approach, courts must identify the generic contemporary meaning of the crime and then compare the generic definition to the definition given in the state statute of the state where the defendant was previously convicted.  Then, if the state has adopted the generic meaning, or a narrower definition included in the generic meaning, there is no conflict, and the defendant has necessarily been convicted of the crime under the generic meaning.  Thus, the drafters of the Sentencing Guidelines meant to include the crime within its crime of violence definition.

According to the Fourth Circuit, the district court misapplied the analysis of Taylor to Flores-Granados’ previous conviction in determining whether second degree kidnapping is a crime of violence by looking to the specific facts of the case.  However, the Fourth Circuit looked at the record anew to determine whether theories not considered or rejected by the district court could still support the district court’s sentencing decision.

The Fourth Circuit considered commonalities amongst the Model Penal Code (“MPC”), the laws of the states, and sister circuits, to determine the generic definition of kidnapping.  The MPC defines kidnapping as either unlawful removal from a place of business or residence or unlawful confinement in isolation for a prolonged period for one of four enumerated purposes.  See Model Penal Code § 212.2.  Ultimately, drawing from other state and circuit law, the Fourth Circuit concluded that “[t]o be within generic kidnapping, in addition to unlawful restraint by force, threat or fraud, a statute must contain as an element an additional aggravating factor such as nefarious purposes or substantial interference with the victim’s liberty, but need not require both.”

Upholding the District Court’s Decision

Because the generic meaning “substantially corresponds” with the North Carolina statute defining second degree kidnapping, Flores-Granados’ prior conviction was a crime of violence, and thus it was proper for the district court to apply enhanced level sentencing in Flores-Granados’ case.