March 1, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 15-cr-40068-001 - Sara Darrow,
Posner, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
HAMILTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
issue in this appeal is whether the district court had a
sufficient basis for imposing an above-guideline sentence on
appellant Guadalupe Mejia, Jr., who pled guilty to being a
felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g)(1). The evidence and argument at Mejia's
sentencing hearing focused on a bar fight in which Mejia
pulled a knife and either Mejia or another man pulled a gun
and fired shots that struck a building and a vehicle.
conflicting factual accounts of the bar fight convinced the
district judge to reject the probation officer's
recommendation to increase Mejia's guideline offense
level by four levels on the theory that he had "used or
possessed" a gun "in connection with another felony
offense" or else had "possessed or
transferred" the weapon with "knowledge, intent, or
reason to believe that it would be used or possessed in
connection with another felony offense." See U.S.S.G.
§ 2K2.1(b)(6)(B). From the facts about the bar fight
that could be found with confidence, however, as well as
Mejia's lengthy criminal history, the district judge
concluded that no matter who fired the shots at the bar, an
above-guideline sentence was appropriate. We affirm.
Factual and Procedural Background
pled guilty without a plea agreement. During the plea
colloquy he did not admit any factual allegations beyond the
essential elements of the § 922(g)(1) charge, so he
admitted nothing about the bar fight. Afterward, he also
declined to discuss the offense with the probation officer.
Without the defendant's version of the offense, the
probation officer used police reports to put together an
account of the bar fight that blamed Mejia for firing the
center of the fight was a confrontation between Mejia and a
man named Winters, apparently over a woman whom Winters
viewed as his girlfriend. It is not clear who threw the first
punch, but Winters and Mejia started fighting. Mejia pulled a
switchblade knife. Then two other men entered the fray, one
on each side. Winters got help from a man named Tarkington,
and Mejia called for help from fellow gang member McClain.
After McClain arrived, several gunshots were fired. Some
struck Tarkington's truck and the building where the bar
combatants separated. Mejia took the gun and hid it. When
police questioned him the next day, he led them to the gun.
Mejia told the police that he was not the shooter. He has
maintained that position throughout this federal prosecution
for being a felon in possession of the firearm.
sentencing, the principal factual dispute was whether Mejia
had fired the shots and thus whether his offense level should
have been raised by four levels under § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B)
for using or possessing the gun in connection with another
felony or for possessing or transferring the gun to Mejia
with knowledge, intent, or reason to believe it would be used
or possessed in connection with another felony. Mejia did not
testify or present evidence in his sentencing hearing, but he
challenged the government's effort to prove the
enhancement should apply.
not recount all the details of the conflicting accounts of
the bar fight from Winters, Tarkington, police officers, and
Mejia's post-arrest statement. Suffice it to say the
conflicts among those accounts made it impossible for the
court to determine who fired the shots and thus whether Mejia
handled the gun "in connection with another felony
offense, " as necessary to apply the upward adjustment
under § 2K2.l(b)(6)(B). Without the adjustment,
Mejia's offense level was 17 and his criminal history
category was VI, for a guideline range of 51 to 63 months in
prison. The judge imposed a sentence of 93 months.
judge stressed that no matter who started their fight,
"the initial contact between the defendant and Mr.
Winters was forceful." And though the judge said she did
not "really know what happened/' she continued that
it was clear "there was a fight and there was a knife
involved, a knife possessed by the defendant." Still,
the judge added, the aftermath "gets a little
foggy." The evidence did prove, the judge said, that
Mejia had been "in the thick of it" and summoned
McClain to the bar.
judge explained that the guideline range is just one of the
factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and that it was in this
case "slightly inadequate to address the seriousness of
the offense." The events at the bar, the court said,
were "incredibly troubling." "You were there,
" the judge told Mejia, and "you ultimately
possessed" the gun used in the shooting after "you
called the individual to come there, ...