One Gun Too Many: Double-Counting the Same Offense in Iowa

Author:T.M. Clint Harris
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2020; B.S., The University of Iowa, 2004
Pages:2329-2357
2329
One Gun Too Many: Double-Counting
the Same Offense in Iowa
T.M. Clint Harris*
ABSTRACT: The average Iowan would be shocked to learn that the
commission of a firearm possession crime in Iowa would expose them to the
risk of being sent to federal prison for a time period 25 percent longer than
that of a citizen of a neighboring state. This Note argues that the Eighth
Circuit’s ruling in United States v. Walker was an erroneous interpretation
of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and that governmental action should be
taken in one of three major arenas—judicial, administrative, or legislative
—to remedy the resulting sentencing disparities. Ultimately, this would be one
step towards returning fairness and justice to similarly situated defendants
in the federal criminal system.
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2330
II.THE HISTORY AND IMPACT OF THE SENTENCING
GUIDELINES ................................................................................ 2331
A.THE SENTENCING OF JOHN DOE ............................................. 2331
B.FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES AS A RESPONSE TO
JUDICIAL SENTENCING DISPARITY ........................................... 2333
C.WHAT IS SECTION 2K2.1(B)(6)(B)? ...................................... 2336
D.IOWA WEAPON LAWS: IOWA CODE SECTION 724.4 .................. 2337
E.HOW HAS THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT APPLIED SECTION
2K2.1(B)(6)(B)? .................................................................. 2339
F.FIREARM LAWS AMONGST THE OTHER EIGHTH
CIRCUIT STATES .................................................................... 2344
III.WHY ARE DISPARATE SENTENCING OUTCOMES A
PROBLEM? ................................................................................... 2348
A.THE IMPACT OF DISPARATE SENTENCES ON INDIVIDUALS ......... 2349
B.THE IMPACT OF DISPARATE SENTENCES ON
GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENS .................................................. 2349
*
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2020; B.S., The University of
Iowa, 2004.
2330 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 105:2329
IV.WHAT ARE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM OF
DOUBLE-COUNTING FIREARM POSSESSION CRIMES IN
IOWA? .......................................................................................... 2350
A.ACTION BY THE DISTRICT COURT SENTENCING JUDGE ............. 2351
B.ACTION BY THE SENTENCING COMMISSION ............................. 2352
C.JUDICIAL ACTION BY THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT ............................. 2354
D.JUDICIAL ACTION BY THE SUPREME COURT ............................. 2355
E.IOWA LEGISLATIVE ACTION TO AMEND IOWA
CODE SECTION 724.4 ............................................................ 2355
V.CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 2356
I. INTRODUCTION
Why should two people, separated only by state boundaries, who commit
identically unlawful conduct, face vastly different federal prison terms under
the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines? As originally intended, they should not, but
that is what is happening in Iowa in comparison to the rest of the states in the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. This unequal treatment, which has been
occurring since at least 2014,1 runs counter to the high ideals the Sentencing
Guidelines were intended to promote—fairness and a reduction in disparate
sentences.2
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ own record,3 coupled with the
information collected and analyzed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission
(“Commission”),4 demonstrates a clear discrepancy between defendants
sentenced for firearm possession offenses in Iowa federal courts and those
sentenced elsewhere in the Eighth Circuit’s seven-state jurisdiction. The
underlying reason for this disparate impact is two-pronged: (1) Iowa has a
deadly weapons law that predates the Guidelines, criminalizes a broader range
of conduct, and imposes an accompanying sentence longer than any of the
other six states in the circuit,5 and (2) the Eighth Circuit has narrowly
1. See United States v. Walker, 771 F.3d 449, 451–52 (8th Cir. 2014).
2. See Stephen G. Breyer, The Original U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and Suggestions for a Fairer
Future, 46 HOFSTRA L. REV. 799, 800 (2018) (“Ultimately, the Guidelines were developed because
we wanted . . . greater fairness (I note ‘-er’ not ‘-est’), not perfect fairness, but increased fairness
where people would be treated more alike.”).
3. See cases cited infra note 97.
4. See 28 U.S.C. § 995(a)(12), (14)–(15) (2012) (requiring the Commission to “serv[e] as
a clearinghouse and information center for the collection, preparation, and dissemination of
information on Federal sentencing practices,” to “collect systematically and disseminate
information concerning sentences actually imposed,” and to “publish data concerning the
sentencing process”).
5. IOWA CODE § 724.4(1) (2020). This statute remains essentially unaltered since 1976 .
1976 Iowa Acts 549; see also infra note 104 and accompanying text. The seven states that make up

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