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United States v. Berry

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
BRIAN KEITH BERRY, Defendant - Appellant. FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER OFFICE, Amicus Supporting Appellant

Argued December 10, 2015.

Page 193

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. (5:13-cr-00329-FL-1). Louise W. Flanagan, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Jorgelina E. Araneda, ARANEDA LAW FIRM, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Phillip Anthony Rubin, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, Yvonne V. Watford-McKinney, Assistant United States Attorneys, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Thomas P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, Stephen C. Gordon, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Jennifer C. Leisten, Research & Writing Attorney, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Amicus Curiae.

Before WILKINSON, KING, and WYNN, Circuit Judges. Judge Wynn wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wilkinson and Judge King joined.

OPINION

Page 194

WYNN, Circuit Judge:

Defendant Brian Keith Berry was convicted of a sex offense in state court and obligated to register under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, also known as SORNA. Defendant failed to register as required and pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a).

At sentencing, the district court calculated Defendant's United States Sentencing Guidelines (" Guidelines" ) range as if he were a tier III sex offender. Defendant challenges that tier designation. Using the categorical approach, which we hold applicable here, and comparing his state court conviction for endangering the welfare of a child to the generic offenses enumerated in 42 U.S.C. § 16911(4)(A), we must agree: the district court erred in deeming Defendant a tier III offender. Accordingly, we vacate Defendant's sentence and remand for resentencing.

I.

In 2002, Defendant pled guilty in New Jersey state court to endangering the welfare of a child in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:24-4(a) (2002). Upon Defendant's release from prison, he was advised that he must register as a sex offender with the New Jersey police. He initially registered with a New Brunswick, New Jersey, address; but, in March 2013, law enforcement agents found that he no longer lived at that listed address. Thereafter, the State of New Jersey thus issued a warrant to arrest Defendant for violating the conditions of his parole. Ultimately, Defendant was found in North Carolina where he admitted to law enforcement officials that he had not registered as a sex offender in the State of North Carolina.

Defendant pled guilty to one count of failing to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250. At sentencing, the district court found Defendant to be a tier III sex offender under SORNA, with a corresponding base offense level of sixteen. In a memorandum opinion, the court explained that its tier III determination was " based upon description of the conduct underlying defendant's prior sex offense as set forth in the presentence report." United States v. Berry, No. 5:13-CR-329-FL-1, 2014 WL 7149736, at *1 (E.D.N.C. Dec. 15, 2014). The court found that the conduct underlying the offense, penetrating the vagina of a five-year-old victim with his hand, was comparable to the offense of " abusive sexual contact . . . against a minor who has not attained the age of 13 years" listed in the definition of a tier III sex offender in 42 U.S.C. § 16911(4)(A). Id. at *3.

Based on his tier III designation and other factors, the district court determined Defendant's Guidelines range to be thirty-three to forty-one months. The district court sentenced Defendant to thirty-three months in prison and five years of supervised release. Defendant appeals, arguing that the district court erred in its determination that he qualified as a tier III sex offender.

II.

A.

On appeal, we must determine whether the district court imposed an unreasonable sentence by calculating Defendant's Guidelines range as if he were a tier III sex offender under SORNA. ...


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