Braxton v. United States
500 U.S. 344 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Braxton v. United States, 500 U.S. 344 (1991)

Braxton v. United States

No. 90-5358

Argued March 18, 1991

Decided May 28, 1991

500 U.S. 344


At a hearing at which petitioner Braxton pleaded guilty to assault and firearm counts, but not guilty to the more serious charge of attempting to kill a United States marshal, the Government presented facts -- to which Braxton agreed -- showing, inter alia, that, after each of two instances in which marshals kicked open his door, Braxton fired a gunshot "through the door opening," and the shots lodged in the door's front. Over Braxton's objections, the District Court later sentenced him as though he had been convicted of the attempt to kill count, relying on a proviso in § 1B1.2(a) of the U.S. Sentencing Comm'n Guidelines Manual. Although § 1B1.2(a) ordinarily requires a court to apply the Sentencing Guideline most applicable to the offense of conviction, the proviso allows the court, in the case of conviction by a guilty plea "containing a stipulation" that "specifically establishes" a more serious offense, to apply the Guideline most applicable to the stipulated offense. The Court of Appeals upheld Braxton's sentence.

Held: The court below misapplied the § 1B1.2(a) proviso. Pp. 500 U. S. 346-351.

(a) This Court will not resolve the question whether Braxton's guilty plea "contain[ed] a stipulation" within the proviso's meaning. The Commission -- which was specifically charged by Congress with the duty to review and revise the Guidelines and given the unusual explicit power to decide whether and to what extent its amendments reducing sentences would be given retroactive effect -- has already undertaken a proceeding that will eliminate a conflict among the Federal Circuits over the precise question at issue here. Moreover, the specific controversy before the Court can be decided on other grounds. Pp. 500 U. S. 347-349.

(b) Assuming that Braxton's agreement to the Government's facts constituted a "stipulation," that stipulation does not "specifically establis[h]" an attempt to kill, as is required by the proviso. At best, the stipulation supports two reasonable readings -- one that Braxton shot across the room at the marshals when they entered, and one that he shot before they entered to frighten them off. There is nothing in the latter reading from which an intent to kill -- a necessary element of the attempt to kill count -- could even be inferred. Pp. 500 U. S. 349-351.

903 F.2d 292 (4th Cir.1990), reversed and remanded.

Page 500 U. S. 345

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Primary Holding

Court below misapplied proviso—which allows court, in case of a guilty plea "containing a stipulation" that "specifically establishes" a more serious offense, to apply Guideline most applicable to stipulated offense rather than sentence most applicable to offense of conviction—by sentencing Braxton, who pleaded guilty to assault and firearm counts, as though he had been convicted of attempting to kill a United States marshal, when his guilty plea did not "specifically establis[h]" such an attempt.

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