Whitfield v. United States
June 23, 2014
Case #: 13-9026
Court Below: 548 Fed. Appx. 70 (4th Cir. 2013)
Full Text Opinion: http://www2.bloomberglaw.com/public/desktop/document/United_States_v_Whitfield_548_Fed_Appx_70_4th_Cir_2013_Court_Opin
Criminal Law: Whether "forced accompaniment" during a bank robbery must be substantial in order to trigger the increased penalty under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e).
Petitioner attempted to rob a credit union. When a metal detector locked him out of the building, he fled, discarding his weapon. He broke into the home of a 79-year old woman, who was at home, and called a friend for a ride. While in the home, he directed the woman to stay in her computer room. She suffered a heart attack and died there.
Petitioner was convicted of the attempted robbery and of "forced accompaniment" under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(e). That provision dramatically increases the penalty for a bank robbery when the defendant "kills any person, or forces any person to accompany him without the consent of such person . . . ." Id. After an initial appeal to the Fourth Circuit sent the case back to the district court for resentencing, Petitioner appealed his conviction under § 2113(e). That court affirmed the convictions and sentences.
Currently, there exists a drastic split among the circuits as to the application of the "forced accompaniment" enhancement. Some, the fourth included, set no lower bounds on the amount of accompaniment required to trigger § 2113(e), any amount of coerced movement will suffice. The Ninth Circuit falls in the middle, they have not declared whether there is a safe amount of forced accompaniment, but have rejected the "substantial accompaniment" requirement adopted by the Fifth and Tenth circuits.
Petitioner argues that 18 U.S.C. § 2113 "creates a series of escalating penalties applicable to increasingly culpable conduct." It makes no sense, then, to apply the harshest punishment (§ 2113(e)) to the sort of de minimis "forced accompaniment" present in virtually every bank robbery. Petitioner urges that a plain-text reading of § 2113 as a whole requires that any "forced accompaniment" must be substantial.