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Seventh Circuit Vacates Sentence Where District Court Improperly Imposed Leadership Enhancement

Police stopped the vehicle in which McGee, Wayne Frazier, and Terry Glaspie were traveling for speeding and found heroin behind the glove compartment. Glaspie told investigators that McGee traveled to Chicago to pick up Glaspie and Frazier for their assistance with driving and to act as lookouts while transporting the heroin to Minneapolis, where McGee would distribute it through his own local network. Glaspie also revealed that both he and McGee worked for a drug dealer named Charles McMillan.

McGee pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute. At sentencing, the federal district court imposed a two-level leadership enhancement under § 3B1.1(c) because McGee “ran ... a Minneapolis offshoot of the larger heroin distribution enterprise based out of Chicago, including directing others in the transportation of the product.” McGee’s Guidelines range was calculated at 92 to 115 months, but without the enhancement, his range would’ve been 77 to 96 months. McGee was sentenced to 84 months in prison, and he appealed the enhancement.

The Seventh Circuit observed “the primary goal in applying § 3B1.1 should be to make a commonsense judgment about the defendant’s culpability given his status in the criminal hierarchy.” United States v. House, 883 F.3d 720 (7th Cir. 2018).

A defendant’s offense level is increased by two levels if he was an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor typically defined as having “some real and direct influence on other participants in the criminal activity.” United States v. Mankiewicz, 122 F.3d 399 (7th Cir. 1997). A supervisor or manager tells people what to do and determines whether they’ve done it, and an organizer or leader exercises a greater extent of authority than a supervisor or manager. United States v. Figueroa, 682 F.3d 694 (7th Cir. 2012). “Middleman status alone cannot support a finding that a defendant was a supervisor, manager, [organizer,] or leader of a criminal activity....” United States v. Brown, 944 F.3d 1377 (7th Cir. 1991). Even where a defendant sells drugs to other dealers, a supervisory-role enhancement is improper absent evidence the defendant supervised those buyers. United States v. Weaver, 716 F.3d 439 (7th Cir. 2013).

When a defendant is sentenced under an incorrect Guidelines range, the error is sufficient to show a reasonable probability of a different outcome had the error not been committed – and this is true regardless of whether the sentence actually imposed was within the correct Guidelines range. Molina-Martinez v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1338 (2016).

In the present case, there was no evidence that McGee controlled or supervised Frazier or Glaspie, according to the Court. Nor was there any evidence that McGee had authority over the distributors to whom he sold heroin in Minneapolis. Since both McGee and Glaspie worked for McMillan, McGee was comparable to a middleman, the Court stated. Thus, the Court concluded that the record did not contain evidence to support the district court’s imposition of the leadership enhancement.

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Related legal case

United States v. McGee



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