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United States v. Seals

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

January 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTOPHER R. SEALS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Defendant, Christopher R. Seals, was found guilty and convicted by a jury of armed bank robbery and aiding and abetting, violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (Count 1); use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count 2); and felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Count 3). The Court sentenced the Defendant on February 23, 2015. On March 16, 2016, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Defendant's conviction but vacated his sentence in United States v. Seals, 813 F.3d 1038 (7th Cir. 2016). On remand, the probation officer drafted a Modified Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) in preparation for sentencing. The Court now resolves the Government's and the Defendant's objections to the PSR.

         FINDING OF FACT

         “At sentencing, a district court need only make findings of fact, such as the quantity of drugs attributable to a defendant, by a preponderance of the evidence.” United States v. Davis, 682 F.3d 596, 612 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Kransinki, 545 F.3d 546, 551 (7th Cir. 2008), overruled on other grounds by United States v. Taylor, 778 F.3d 667, 669 (7th Cir. 2015)). “A proposition proved by a preponderance of the evidence is one that has been shown to be more likely than not.” Id. The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to sentencing. United States v. Dean, 414 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2005), and a court may rely on hearsay as long as the information “has sufficient indicia of reliability to support its probable accuracy, ” United States v. Rollins, 544 F.3d 820, 838 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). See also United States v. Bradley, 628 F.3d 394, 400 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[s]entencing judges necessarily have ‘discretion to draw conclusions about the testimony given and evidence introduced at sentencing, ' but ‘due process requires that sentencing determinations be based on reliable evidence, not speculation or unfounded allegations.'”) (quoting United States v. England, 555 F.3d 616, 622 (7th Cir. 2009)). As such, “[a] district court may rely on facts asserted in the PSR if the PSR is based on sufficiently reliable information.” Rollins, 544 F.3d at 838. “The defendant bears the burden of proving that the PSR is inaccurate or unreliable, ” and if he offers no evidence to question the PSR's accuracy, the court may rely on it. Id.

         “[A] full remand does not require the district court to rehear all (or any) of the evidence that it heard at the original sentencing hearing.” United States v. Mobley, 833 F.3d 797, 802 (7th Cir. 2016). A “record that was compiled during a prior sentencing hearing is still valid, and the district court at a later sentencing hearing may continue to rely on it.” Id. The Court conducted a four-day jury trial, beginning on September 16, 2014, and an evidentiary hearing on February 17, 2015. The Court incorporates by reference the record of this case, and will briefly recite some of the relevant facts.

         On February 14, 2013, three masked individuals entered a PNC Bank, located at 5610 Coventry Lane, Indiana, and robbed the bank at gunpoint. The robbers approached from the back of the bank and entered through the front door. Two wore dark, hooded sweatshirts and black masks with small eyeholes pulled down over their faces, and one had a backpack. The robber with the backpack was carrying a gun as he went to the first teller station behind the teller counter, but the robber appeared to leave it on the floor by a teller's chair before entering the vault, as seen by surveillance video. He was not carrying a gun when he exited the vault. The three robbers left the bank through the back door.

         Immediately after the robbery, a revolver was found near one of the wheeled legs of the teller's chair. It was loaded with Remington .38 special ammunition. DNA samples taken from the cartridges matched the DNA of the Defendant to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. A cell phone was also taken during the robbery from one of the victim employees. It was later recovered from a remote area along the suspected getaway route. A latent fingerprint recovered from the phone was identified as having been made by Deyante Stephens, also known by the nickname “Pooter.”

         On March 20, 2013, officers were involved in the pursuit of a black Infiniti sedan which was associated with the Defendant and his brother, Charles Seals (“Charles”). Fort Wayne Police Department (FWPD) Officer Michael Bell spotted the Infinite with at least two occupants in the front seats. When Officer Bell activated his emergency lights, the Infiniti fled from the scene. A high-speed pursuit ensued, ending with a crash. Two suspects exited the car and ran. A man named Nadir Armour remained in the back seat of the Infiniti. The two fleeing suspects were not located.

         Crime scene technicians executed search warrants on the Infiniti and located the following evidence: a loaded Smith and Wesson pistol between the driver's seat and the door opening; a white cellphone under the gun; a black cellphone on the passenger side floor; and a photocopy of the Defendant's identification card and the driver's carbon copy of a traffic citation issued to the Defendant in the front console. Additionally, in the back seat area, the officers located a black knit hat with hand-cut eyeholes, a bag containing a plastic bag of money, several boxes of ammunition in different calibers, and other items. The bag of money consisted of 531 one-dollar bills and 700 ten-dollar bills. There was a box of 9mm Luger ammunition, a box of Remington .38 special ammunition, a box of .45 caliber ammunition, and 410 ammunition that could fit a .45 caliber gun. The officers found a dark blue hooded sweatshirt, along with other clothing items in the trunk.

         A latent fingerprint was located on the gun from the Infiniti and identified as the finger print of the Defendant. Another latent fingerprint on the driver's door window was identified as the fingerprint of Charles. Downloaded data from the white cellphone indicated communications with Stephens. There were numerous communications and emails identifying the phone as belonging to Charles. The black cellphone contained conversations about the acquisition of guns. A scanner radio application had been installed on the phone on February 13, 2013. Numerous communications identified the black cellphone as belonging to the Defendant. It was also determined that the black cellphone was used in close proximity to the time of the flight and subsequent crash of the Infiniti.

         The Defendant was identified as a suspect for the for the PNC Bank robbery after DNA results were received from the gun left behind at the PNC Bank. Police interviewed the Defendant on May 1, 2013. The Defendant was shown a photograph of the gun and he identified it as being the gun used in the PNC robbery, but claimed his knowledge was based on television news coverage. He denied ever seeing the gun in person. He later admitted that the gun was a .38 but denied that his DNA would be found on any PNC evidence. After Special Agent Stewart showed the Defendant the DNA report for the gun abandoned at the PNC Bank, the Defendant switched his story and admitted buying, touching, and loading the gun prior to the bank robbery. He also admitted that the black cellphone recovered in the Infiniti belonged to him and provided the numeric code to unlock the phone. As the interview continued, the Defendant's story changed, and he admitted that his involvement in the bank robbery was to keep quiet, as Stephens and Charles gave him money when they came back and told him to say nothing. The Defendant admitted that Charles asked him to rob PNC Bank with him about three days before Valentine's Day, but claimed that he was too scared to do it.

         A three-count Indictment was filed on May 22, 2013, and on September 19, 2014, a jury convicted the Defendant on all three counts. On February 23, 2015, the Court sentenced the Defendant to 188 months on Count 1 for armed bank robbery, a consecutive 84 months on Count 2 for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), and a concurrent 120 months on Count 3 for possessing a firearm as a felon. The Defendant appealed, and on March 16, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Defendant's conviction but vacated his sentence. United States v. Seals, 813 F.3d 1038, 1049 (7th Cir. 2016). The Seventh Circuit found plain error in the Court's failure to make factual findings to support a conclusion that the Defendant actively participated in the police chase when the Court applied two enhancements under U.S.S.G. § 3C1.2 and § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). The modified PSR does not include these enhancements.

         ANALYSIS

         The Government has two objections to the PSR. The Government first asks the Court to make the appropriate factual findings to justify a four point sentencing enhancement for reckless endangerment during flight pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.2, and second asks for another two point sentencing enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with another felony offense pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). The Government argues that even if the Court ultimately does not sustain these objections, the Defendant's conduct nevertheless would justify an upward variance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). In turn, the Defendant objects to Part G(1) of the PSR, which recommends that the Defendant make restitution payments in a fixed amount of $50.00 per month commencing one month after his placement on supervision. “In the course of imposing a new sentence, the district court is authorized to reconsider all elements of the sentence, including in particular the prison term and the conditions of supervised release.” United States v. Mobley, 833 F.3d at 797. “Because a criminal sentence is normally a package that includes several component parts (term of imprisonment, fine, restitution, special assessment, supervised release), when one part of the package is disturbed, ” the district court is encouraged “to ...


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