Federal Sentencing Guidelines Punish Use of a Minor

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 08, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What should a parent do when he cannot afford to pay a $762 child support bill?

We think asking family members for loans, selling personal belongings, or even begging for the court's mercy are reasonable options.

Aaron C. Robinson, on the other hand, tried to postpone his child support hearing by phoning in a bomb threat on the courthouse where the hearing was to occur, using a prepaid cellphone that he asked his then-14-year-old stepsister to buy for him.

The plan worked for a little while; the courthouse was evacuated, the hearing was delayed, and Robinson ditched the phone.

Of course he was caught; otherwise we wouldn't be discussing this case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The government brought a two-count indictment against Robinson for using a cellular phone to willfully threaten to damage or destroy a building by means of an explosive. Robinson entered into a plea agreement in the case. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Robinson's total offense level resulted in a guidelines range of 41 to 51 months in prison.

Robinson objected to the two-level enhancement under the federal sentencing guidelines for use of a minor. He argued that he did not "intentionally and purposefully" use a juvenile to commit criminal offense, and there was no evidence that his minor stepsister knew what was up when she bought the phone for him. The district court, however, concluded that the federal sentencing guidelines range was appropriate and sentenced him to 41 months in prison and a 3-year term of supervised release.

Robinson appealed, claiming there was insufficient evidence in the record that he intended to make bomb threats or to use the phone to make bomb threats at the time he asked his stepsister to purchase it.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court could properly infer from the facts that Robinson had his stepsister purchase the phone to avoid appearing on store surveillance videos. Further, because Robinson directed his stepsister to purchase the phone only hours before he made the threats, the timing supports an inference that he had the requisite intent at the time he made the request. Finally, Robinson's decision to purchase a prepaid phone and to dispose of that phone after the call supports the inference that he asked his stepsister to purchase the phone with the specific intent to avoid detection.

Because Robinson intended to use the phone to make bomb threats at the time it was purchased, and he directed a minor to purchase it for his use and to avoid detection, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court applied the two-level enhancement appropriately to Robinson's sentence.

The courts do not take kindly to defendants using minors to carry out crimes. Lesson learned? Avoid sentencing enhancements by finding an adult to be your criminal sidekick.

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