Fourth Circuit Vacates Improper Leadership Enhancement

In an opinion filed yesterday (available here), the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded a case for sentencing where a district court erroneously applied an aggravating leadership enhancement to a defendant in a drug conspiracy.

At the time of sentencing, the district court applied a three-level enhancement to the defendant’s guidelines calculation because of his aggravating role as a manager or supervisor of other participants in the drug conspiracy.  (U.S.S.G. 3B1.1).  This enhancement is reserved for defendants who “control the activities of other participants” or exercise managerial responsibility.

The district court applied the enhancement, to which the defendant did not object, on the basis of the following factors: the defendant sold powder and crack cocaine to other co-conspirators (who in turn sold it to others), the defendant was driven around by a co-conspirator during the course of the drug conspiracy, and some of the co-conspirators sold drugs “for” the defendant.  However, the Fourth Circuit held that there was insufficient evidence in the record that the defendant actually directly supervised anyone, or managed the operations.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case for re-sentencing, at which time the district court will have the opportunity to find facts that may increase the defendant’s sentencing exposure under this enhancement, anyway.