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United States v. Owens

October 22, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:00-CR-34--William C. Lee, Chief Judge.

Before Coffey, Rovner, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffey, Circuit Judge


Defendant-Appellant Richard Owens ("Owens") appeals his sentence imposed after a jury found him guilty of armed robbery of a credit union in Fort Wayne, Indiana on April 11, 2001. Owens argues that the sentencing judge erred in imposing two upward adjustments: one for Owens' "aggravating role" in the crime as an "organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor" of the robbery, and the other for "obstruction of justice" by giving false information to an investigation officer in an attempt to send the police on a wild goose chase. Owens also claims the judge erred in sentencing him at the high end of the sentencing range because of the district judge's own (alleged) beliefs about the inadequacy of the Sentencing Guidelines. We affirm. Owens does not dispute, and hence we need not address, the issue of whether he was armed during the commission of the offense.


At approximately 4:00 p.m. on June 22, 2001, an African-American man wearing a fake beard, sunglasses, work boots, a reflector vest (similar to those worn by highway workers) and an orange hardhat walked into the Three Rivers Credit Union in Fort Wayne, Indiana with a gun in his right hand. The oddly costumed individual, observed by witnesses carrying two duffel bags along with the dangerous weapon, approached the tellers and demanded that they fill the bags with money. After obtaining his loot, he fled the scene in a white Plymouth Sundance, with an alert off-duty police officer in hot pursuit. After a brief chase, the suspect abandoned the vehicle and ran into a nearby wooded area, leaving behind two duffel bags full of money in the car with the fake beard and the orange hardhat. The suspect also left behind clear footprints of work boots in the muddy ground. The sunglasses and construction vest he wore at the time of the robbery were later discovered nearby.

Owens testified that on the day of the robbery, he had been a passenger in a car driven by Ronald Fowlkes ("Fowlkes") and James David Thompson ("Thompson"). Owens claimed at trial that while a passenger in the car that day, Fowlkes had invited him to participate in a bank robbery, but that he refused and demanded to be let out of the car. According to Owens, after Fowlkes stopped the car, Owens exited the vehicle and made his way to a nearby gas station and asked to use the telephone. Pursuing police officers came upon Owens in the gas station, and after observing that he matched the description of the bank robbery suspect and that his work boots were covered with fresh mud, they arrested him. The defendant (who is black) protested to the officers, claiming that his car had just been stolen by a black man wearing a construction vest and an orange hardhat and that he had only come to the station to call police. A detective who interviewed Owens shortly after his arrest filled out a stolen vehicle report on the basis of this story, complete with a description of the alleged car thief, which was subsequently signed by Owens himself. After he was taken into custody, Owens was brought back to the credit union (crime scene), whereupon he was identified by several eyewitnesses.

On April 11, 2001, a jury found Owens guilty of the bank robbery. He was sentenced on November 15, 2001 to a term of 151 months in prison. The sentencing judge, while using the 2001 edition of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, found his total offense level to be 31 and determined his criminal history category to be two. The judge in sentencing included a two-level upward adjustment under § 3B1.1(c) (for defendants with an "aggravating role" who "organize, lead, manage, or supervise" the criminal activity) and another two-level upward adjustment under § 3C1.1 (for defendants who obstruct justice). The judge noted that the guidelines' sentencing range was from 121 to 151 months, and that he was "going to sentence [Owens] at the high end of the guidelines. I think that bank robbery sentences are the only sentences under the Guidelines that are not adequate . . . ."


A. The Aggravating Role

Whether a defendant had an "aggravating role" under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 is a "fact question for the sentencing court to resolve, and we will not disturb it absent a showing of clear error." United States v. McKenzie, 922 F.2d 1323, 1329 (7th Cir. 1991). This standard of review makes clear that we may not hold that the trial judge erred unless we are of "the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Brown, 900 F.2d 1098, 1102 (7th Cir. 1990) (quotations omitted). At trial, the prosecution offered the testimony of Owens' two co-defendants, Fowlkes and Thompson, as proof that Owens was the leader of the group. Contrary to Owens' statements, Fowlkes and Thompson stated that Owens had recruited them (Fowlkes and Thompson), and thereafter met with them to plan the robbery, chose the finan cial institution to be robbed, gave each of them directions as to what part they were to play in the robbery scheme, and devised a plan to distribute the money they secured. Given these facts, which the jury must have found to be persuasive, we are convinced that it was not clearly erroneous for the judge thereafter to enhance Owens' sen tence two points for his "aggravating role" in "organiz[ing], lead[ing], manag[ing], or supervis[ing]" the operation.

B. Obstruction of Justice

We review de novo the question of whether the district court made the appropriate findings to support an obstruction of justice enhancement under U.S.S.G. ยง 3C1.1. We review the district court's underlying factual findings for clear error. ...

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