November 27, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No.
l:17-cr-00139-TWP-TAB-1 - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.
Bauer, Hamilton, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
BARRETT, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Briggs pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a
firearm after officers found drugs and firearms at his home
during a parole visit. At sentencing, the district court
applied a four-level enhancement for possessing a firearm in
connection with felony possession of drugs. But because the
district court made essentially no factual findings
connecting Briggs's firearms to his felony drug
possession, we reverse and remand for resentencing.
December 2016, Indiana state parole officers conducted a
parole visit at Alandous Briggs's home. After consenting
to a search, he admitted that there was marijuana (299
grams), cocaine (.45 grams), and firearms (3 loaded handguns)
in the master bedroom. On a shelf next to the marijuana, the
officers also found a digital scale. The officers arrested
Briggs and seized his cell phone-which turned out to contain
pictures and texts confirming that the guns were his.
was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of
a firearm. Although the parties did not come to a plea
agreement, Briggs petitioned to enter a plea of guilty and
requested a presentence investigation report. The probation
office's initial report concluded that Briggs had
committed a felony drug offense in connection with the
firearm possession, which warranted a four-level enhancement
under U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) (specifying an
enhancement for those who "used or possessed any firearm
... in connection with another felony offense"). Briggs
filed an objection to this enhancement, arguing that his
firearm possession was unrelated to the drugs found in his
district court conducted a combined plea and sentencing
hearing. After accepting his plea, the district court turned
to Briggs's sentencing objection. The government claimed
that the enhancement applied based on two separate felonies:
felony drug possession and felony drug trafficking. Briggs
again maintained that his firearms were unrelated to the
drugs. But the district court held that the enhancement
applied and sentenced Briggs to 84 months.
appeals that sentencing decision. His sole argument on appeal
is that the district court erred by finding that his
possession of firearms was connected to another felony.
initial matter, the government claims that the district court
found that the enhancement applied based on both felony drug
possession and felony drug trafficking. We disagree. The
district court discussed both felonies at sentencing, but it
ultimately concluded that only felony drug possession
triggered the enhancement. It explained that although
"there's an inference that the defendant may
have been involved in some drug distribution, ... at
minim[um], he was possessing drugs." (emphasis added).
We take this to mean that the district court wasn't
deciding whether the enhancement applied because of the
suspected drug trafficking, resting its decision instead only
on felony possession, which Briggs admitted. Thus, the
question that we face on appeal is whether the district court
erred in concluding that the enhancement applied in
connection with Briggs's felony possession of
enhance a defendant's sentence for possessing a firearm
in connection with another felony, the firearm must have been
connected to the second crime. See U.S.S.G. §
2K2.1 & cmt. n. 14(A) (stating that "in connection
with" means that the firearm "facilitated, or had
the potential of facilitating, another felony offense").
We have noted before that "[m]ere contemporaneous
possession while another felony is being committed is not
necessarily sufficient, and possessing a gun while engaged in
the casual use of drugs might not give rise to the inference
that the gun was possessed in connection with the
drugs." United States v. LePage, 477 F.3d 485,
489 (7th Cir. 2007).
problem here is that the district never made any findings
about how Briggs's felony cocaine possession was
connected to his firearms. It simply assumed that because the
firearms were probably connected to drug trafficking (because
of the combination of the cocaine, marijuana, and digital
scale), they were probably connected to his mere possession
of the cocaine. But that logic doesn't hold up. Analyzing
whether firearms are connected to drug trafficking is
different from analyzing whether they are connected to
possessing a small quantity of drugs. See id.
(explaining that the existence of a dilution agent, for
example, was "consistent with being a dealer and not
simply a casual user of the drug"); United States v.
Smith,535 F.3d 883, 885-86 (8th Cir. 2008) (noting the
differences between drug trafficking and drug possession as
it relates to the § 2K2.1(b)(6) enhancement). In fact,
the guidelines themselves distinguish between drug