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United States v. Mills

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 5, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
DARRYL EUGENE MILLS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 31, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Charlotte. Robert J. Conrad, Jr., District Judge. (3:15-cr-00295-RJC-DCK-1)

         ARGUED:

          Joshua B. Carpenter, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Amy Elizabeth Ray, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Asheville, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Anthony Martinez, Federal Public Defender, FEDERAL DEFENDERS OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA, INC., Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          R. Andrew Murray, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before WILKINSON, NIEMEYER, and KING, Circuit Judges.

          NIEMEYER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         After Darryl Eugene Mills pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), the district court sentenced him to 70 months' imprisonment. That sentence was at the low end of the 70 to 87 month advisory range that the district court found was applicable under the Sentencing Guidelines, which was based in part on the district court's conclusion that Mills's prior North Carolina conviction for assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury was a conviction for a "crime of violence." In response to Mills's argument that his prior North Carolina conviction was not for a crime of violence as defined in the Sentencing Guidelines and therefore that the sentencing range should have been 37 to 46 months' imprisonment, the district court stated that even if it did not treat the prior conviction as a qualifying predicate, it would have imposed the same 70-month sentence as an upward variance sentence because it believed that 70 months was "necessary and sufficient but not greater than necessary . . . to accomplish the [18 U.S.C. §] 3553(a) factors," based on the reasons that the court had already explained to Mills.

         On appeal, Mills again argues that his prior North Carolina conviction did not qualify as a conviction for a crime of violence and that the district court erred in so concluding. While the reasons Mills gives are not without persuasive force, we nonetheless conclude that any error that the district court might have committed in treating Mills's prior North Carolina conviction as a crime-of-violence predicate was harmless because the court would have imposed the same 70-month sentence regardless of how it resolved the disputed Guidelines issue and the 70-month sentence would, in the circumstances, have been reasonable. See, e.g., United States v. Gomez-Jimenez, 750 F.3d 370, 382-86 (4th Cir. 2014). Accordingly, we affirm.

         I

         On the morning of September 11, 2015, police officers, using their vehicles, blocked Mills's vehicle, which was at a gas station in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the purpose of arresting the passenger in Mills's vehicle on an outstanding warrant. Mills attempted to bypass the blockade by driving in reverse, but in doing so, he hit an unmarked police vehicle behind him. He then "spun his tires in an attempt to evade apprehension." But after he realized that his vehicle was boxed in, he complied with the officers' commands. As the officers approached Mills's vehicle, they observed a handgun in ...


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