Fifth Circuit Overturns Restraint Enhancement in Hobbs Act Robbery Case

 In Criminal

Restraint Enhancement in Hobbs Act Robbery Cases

On May 23, 2017, in United States v. Garcia, the federal Fifth Circuit rejected the imposition of the restraint enhancement in a Hobbs Act robbery. The federal sentencing guidelines provides for a “restraint enhancement” to a sentence when a robbery involves the “forcible restraint of the victim, such as by being tied, bound, or locked up.”

Background in United States v. Garcia

Jaime Garcia and two others robbed a store in Lubbock, Texas, in October 2015. Garcia and the other defendants held the store employees at gunpoint during the robbery. Despite being held at gunpoint, the victims were not physically restrained by any means. The defendants were charged in federal court with a Hobbs Act robbery, and Garcia pled guilty at his trial.

The district court judge, following the recommendation of a pre-sentence investigation report, imposed a 51-month sentence for a Hobbs Act robbery. The sentence included a restraint enhancement, despite objections from both Garcia and the prosecution. Garcia appealed the sentence to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the restraint enhancement was erroneous. His argument centered on the fact that, although the victims were threatened, none of the victims were “physically restrained” by being “tied, bound, or locked up.”

The Fifth Circuit Opinion in United States v. Garcia

The Fifth Circuit vacated Garcia’s sentence and remanded his case for re-sentencing. In addressing the restraint enhancement, the Fifth Circuit first noted that “it is possible for a district court to conclude that a defendant physically restrained his victims without evidence that he actually “tied, bound, or locked them up.” However, the court went on to conclude that the sentencing enhancement does require some type of  “physical restraint.”

Citing prior case law, the court stated that “merely brandishing a weapon at a victim cannot support an enhancement.” The court noted that “a threat not to move is implicit in the very nature of armed robbery.” Because the restraint enhancement was not intended to apply to every robbery, the court concluded that some physical restraint beyond a mere threat not to move must occur.

To read the full opinion, visit: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/16/16-10863-CR0.pdf

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