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United States v. Pyle

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

June 12, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
JASON MITCHELL PYLE Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S SENTENCING OBJECTIONS

          Sean F. Cox United States District Judge

         Defendant Jason Mitchell Pyle (“Defendant”) pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Currently before the Court is Defendant's objection to the Presentence Investigation Report's Sentencing Guidelines computation. Defendant objects to the “cross reference” to attempted murder in § 2A2.1. By cross referencing Defendant's conviction, the base offense level jumps from a level 24 to a level 33. Defendant denies attempting to murder anyone in the incident underlying this action and instead claims that the gun accidentally discharged.

         To resolve Defendant's objection, the Court must determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether Defendant intentionally fired the gun he possessed on July 27, 2014 at Brian McWhirter, whether Defendant attempted to fire the gun at Brian Reed, and/or whether Defendant attempted to murder McWhirter or Reed. The Court held a sentencing hearing as to Defendant's objection on May 17, 2017. Based upon the parties' respective written submissions, and the evidence and oral argument presented at the hearing, the Court concludes that the Government has failed to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the cross reference to attempted murder applies.

         BACKGROUND

         Presentence Investigation Report

         Defendant pleaded guilty to Count One of the Indictment, which charges Felon in Possession of a Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The probation department prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). The PSR lays out the offense conduct underlying Defendant's conviction. The PSR sets forth, in relevant part, the altercation that forms the basis of Defendant's conviction:

Continuing on July 27, 2014, [Defendant] drove [Brittany Nicholson, Defendant's then fiance/girlfriend, ] and his then 3-year-old son to [Brian] Reed's residence in Defendant's red pickup truck. Once near Reed's residence, [Defendant] parked at the end of Honeysuckle Road (approximately 3/4 of a mile away from Reed's residence) and exited the vehicle, and Nicholson moved to the driver's seat. [Defendant] then walked to Reed's residence. Reed and his friend, Brian McWhirter, were in the driveway of the residence. [Defendant] approached Reed and hit him in the face. As McWhirter approached [Defendant], [Defendant] brandished a firearm and fired at [sic] shot at him. The bullet passed through McWhirter's shirt, through the garage door of the residence, and lodged into the drywall. It appeared the bullet grazed McWhirter's side prior to exiting through his shirt. Subsequent to shooting at McWhirter, [Defendant] chased Reed around a vehicle in the driveway. According to Reed, [Defendant] pulled the trigger on the firearm, attempting to shoot him, but it did not fire.

(PSR at ¶ 6) (footnotes omitted).

         The 2016 Guidelines Manual was used to determine Defendant's offense level. The Guideline for a violation of § 922(g)(1) is U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1. Because the PSR determined that Defendant had two prior felony convictions for either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense, his base offense level would be 24, under § 2K2.1(a)(2). (PSR at ¶ 22).

         However, the PSR also notes that § 2K2.1(c) instructs a sentencing court to apply a “cross reference” if the defendant used a firearm in connection with the commission or attempted commission of another offense. (PSR at ¶ 24). Here, the PSR indicates that Defendant possessed a firearm in connection with attempted murder, and it therefore assigns Defendant a base offense level of 33, under § 2A2.1(a)(1). (Id.). After a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under § 3E1.1, Defendant's total offense level is 30. (PSR at ¶¶ 30-32). The PSR assigns Defendant a criminal history category of III. (PSR at ¶ 37). Based upon an offense level of 30 and a criminal history category of III, the guideline range is 121 to 151 months of imprisonment. However, because Defendant's offense carries a maximum term of 120 months, the PSR recommends that Defendant's guideline sentence be 120 months of imprisonment.

         Defendant's Objection To PSR

         Defendant asserts one objection, relating to some of the PSR's factual findings and to the application of the cross reference for attempted murder. Defendant denies attempting to murder Brian McWhirter. It is Defendant's position that the firearm accidentally discharged during his confrontation with McWhirter. Defendant also denies attempting to shoot Brian Reed.

         If the cross reference does not apply, Defendant's base offense level would be 24 pursuant to § 2K2.1(a)(2). Defendant would receive a four-level increase pursuant to § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) because Defendant concedes that his actions would at least constitute aggravated assault. Defendant's total offense level without the cross reference would be 25, after a three-level downward departure for acceptance of responsibility. With a total offense level of 25 and a criminal history category of III, Defendant's guideline range would be 70-87 months of imprisonment.

         Sentencing ...


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