Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The sentencing enhancement one for abducting a victim generates a four-level enhancement; the other for physically restraining a victim generates a two-level enhancement. U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2B3.1(b)(4). The two-level difference between these enhancements shows that abduction qualifies as the more serious of the two. Yet movements within a store typically will occur whenever a robber "physically restrains" a victim. The commentary, for example, lists being "locked up" as an example of a physical restraint, § 1B1.1, cmt., application n. 1(L), and robbers often must take their victims to the area in which they are locked up. Treating the movement typically associated with this two-level physical-restraint enhancement as automatically triggering the four-level abduction enhancement would blur the distinction between physical restraint and abduction.
Around 6:50 p.m. on August 27, 2016, three employees and a customer—the soon-to-be victims of a frightening armed robbery—were going about their business inside a relatively small Universal Wireless store in Coldwater, Michigan. (Universal Wireless is a Sprint retailer.) Two men, their faces obscured, entered. One pointed a semi-automatic weapon at the victims while the other locked the store's front door. The men led the victims from the sales floor to a back breakroom at gunpoint. Inside the back room, they forced the victims to lie face-down on the floor and bound their wrists and ankles with zip ties. The victims immobilized, the robbers looted the store of its cash and cellphones and took the customer's purse. They then scrambled out the back door to a waiting getaway car driven by a third robber. All told, the robbers made off with cellphones and cash worth $42,129.44. Tramain Hill was one of the robbers. He pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery (and aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery) in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1951 and 2. Before sentencing, Hill's presentence report suggested increasing his base offense level by four under an enhancement that applies when victims were "abducted to facilitate commission of the offense or to facilitate escape." Hill objected, arguing that he should receive only a two-level enhancement that applies when victims were "physically restrained to facilitate commission of the offense or to facilitate escape." At sentencing, the district court applied the four-level enhancement. The Fifth Circuit had applied the enhancement to a defendant who engaged in similar robberies, and the district court found that interpretation persuasive. It selected a sentence of 130 months' imprisonment, at the bottom of Hill's guidelines range of 130 to 162 months. If the court had instead applied the two-level physical-restraint enhancement, Hill's guidelines range would have been 110 to 137 months.
Did the district court err in applying a four-level abduction enhancement under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2B3.1(b)(4)(A) to Hill’s sentence?
The court held that the district court erred in applying a four-level abduction enhancement under U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2B3.1(b)(4)(A) to Hill’s sentence because the phrase "different location" was best read to refer to a place different from the store that was being robbed, and the store's back room did not qualify as a "different location" from the store as it was part of the robbed location. The facts of the case instead triggered a related two-level enhancement that applied when robbers "physically restrained" their victims.