Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.
Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw
United States of America v. CHARLES GLEN STASER
Case Number: 06-8065
Judge: Deanell Reece Tacha
Court: UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
Plaintiff's Attorney: Not Listed
Denver, CO – Criminal Defense lawyer represented defendant with being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of firearms charges.
On July 13, 2005, Mr. Staser was indicted for being an unlawful user of a
controlled substance in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(3) and
924(a)(2). Mr. Staser entered into a plea agreement with the Government on March 28,
2006, pleading guilty in exchange for a stipulation that the firearms charged in the
indictment were possessed only for lawful sporting purposes, in which case he would
qualify for a reduced offense level under § 2K2.1(b)(2) of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines
(“U.S.S.G.” or “Guidelines”). In a hearing conducted the same day, as well as in
subsequent proceedings, the District Court made clear its intention to hold an evidentiary
hearing to determine if the firearms were used solely for hunting purposes, reminding the
parties that the plea agreement was not binding on the court for sentencing purposes.
During the first phase of sentencing, Mr. Staser entered his guilty plea, and the
District Court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether to apply the sportingpurpose exception. After hearing testimony from both parties, the court took the matter
under advisement. In July 2006, the court concluded that the sporting-purpose exception
under § 2K2.1(b)(2) did not apply and sentenced Mr. Staser to fourteen months’
imprisonment. The court noted that the sentence fell within the advisory Guidelines
range of twelve to eighteen months’ imprisonment and was reasonable based on the
statutory sentencing factors delineated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
Appellate Case: 06-8065 Document: 010134307 Date Filed: 09/18/2007 Page: 2
after a downward departure for assisting the authorities under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1, the
District Court reduced the total offense level to 12.
- 3 -
On appeal, Mr. Staser argues, first, that the District Court erred by refusing to
apply U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(2) and, second, that the sentence imposed is unreasonable in
light of the § 3553(a) factors.
A. Application of U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b)(2)
A district court’s interpretation of the Guidelines is reviewed de novo and its
factual findings are reviewed for clear error, “giving due deference to the district court’s
application of the guidelines to the facts.” United States v. Brown, 314 F.3d 1216, 1222
(10th Cir. 2003). We review the District Court’s denial of the sporting-purpose exception
for clear error. See United States v. Bayles, 310 F.3d 1302, 1308 (10th Cir. 2002) (“We
review the district court’s factual determination that the firearm was not intended ‘solely
for lawful sporting purposes or collection’ for clear error.”).
Mr. Staser contends the District Court erred in failing to apply § 2K2.1(b)(2) to
reduce his sentence. The “sporting-purpose exception” allows for a reduction in the base
offense level if the defendant can demonstrate: 1) he “possessed all ammunition and
firearms solely for lawful sporting purposes or collection,” and (2) he “did not unlawfully
discharge or otherwise unlawfully use such firearms or ammunition.” U.S.S.G. §
2K2.1(b)(2); see also United States v. Sanders, 449 F.3d 1087, 1090 (10th Cir. 2006)
(stating that defendant must show both possession for sporting purposes and no unlawful
Appellate Case: 06-8065 Document: 010134307 Date Filed: 09/18/2007 Page: 3
- 4 -
use). The burden is on the defendant to establish both elements by a preponderance of the
evidence. See United States v. Dudley, 62 F.3d 1275, 1276 (10th Cir. 1995). The
Government concedes that Mr. Staser did not unlawfully discharge or use the firearms.
The only issue, therefore, is whether Mr. Staser established that he possessed the firearms
“solely” for sporting purposes.
In determining whether firearms are possessed solely for sporting purposes, courts
consider the “surrounding circumstances.” Sanders, 449 F.3d at 1090 (quotation
omitted). The application note to the guideline provision specifies that the “[r]elevant
surrounding circumstances include the number and type of firearms, the amount and type
of ammunition, the location and circumstances of possession and actual use, the nature of
the defendant’s criminal history (e.g., prior convictions for offenses involving firearms),
and the extent to which possession was restricted by local law.” U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1 cmt.
Here, the evidence of the surrounding circumstances indicated that Mr. Staser did
not possess the firearms solely for sporting purposes. The court heard testimony that an
informant told police Mr. Staser possessed marijuana and conducted drug transactions;
the informant had described both the room in Mr. Staser’s residence where he conducted
these transactions, as well as the specific location of controlled substances and weapons
present during the transactions. This information was corroborated in a subsequent
search of Mr. Staser’s residence. According to law enforcement, the informant also
indicated that firearms were in close proximity to Mr. Staser during drug transactions and
Appellate Case: 06-8065 Document: 010134307 Date Filed: 09/18/2007 Page: 4
Mr. Staser argues that the information police obtained from the informant was 2
unreliable. As the District Court pointed out, however, the informant’s statements were
“largely” corroborated by the evidence obtained, and in any event, it is within the
province of the factfinder to determine the reliability of evidence. See United States v.
Castorena-Jaime, 285 F.3d 916, 925–26 (10th Cir. 2002) (“The credibility of witnesses,
the weight to be given evidence, and the reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence
fall within the province of the district court.”).
- 5 -
she felt intimidated by them. In addition, the court heard testimony that police found 2
seven firearms, two of which were loaded, during the search of Mr. Staser’s home. See
Dudley, 62 F.3d at 1277 (stating that if guns are loaded it “cuts against the contention that
they [are] solely for sporting or collection purposes”). Mr. Staser also has a criminal
history involving firearms offenses.
We note, as did the District Court, that the evidence suggests Mr. Staser purchased
and used the firearms primarily for sporting and recreation purposes. Indeed, the record
reflects the fact that Mr. Staser is an avid and long-time hunter. This fact does not,
however, demonstrate that his sole reason for possessing the guns was for sporting
purposes. See Sanders, 449 F.3d at 1090 (holding that, although rifles were obtained and
used primarily for hunting, the sentencing court could find that defendant acquired
another or “new” purpose for possession). Based on the relevant surrounding
circumstances—including the number of firearms, the fact that some were loaded, their
close proximity to Mr. Staser during drug transactions, and Mr. Staser’s criminal
history—the District Court did not err in finding that Mr. Staser did not carry his burden
of proving that he possessed the firearms solely for sporting purposes.
Appellate Case: 06-8065 Document: 010134307 Date Filed: 09/18/2007 Page: 5
- 6 -
B. Reasonableness of Sentence
We review a district court’s sentencing decision for abuse of discretion, asking
whether the sentence is “reasonable” based on the factors set out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
United States v. Garcia-Lara, — F.3d —, 2007 WL 2380991, at *1 (10th Cir. 2007). A
district court’s decision may be challenged on either procedural or substantive grounds.
United States v. Mateo, 471 F.3d 1162, 1166 (10th Cir. 2006). A procedurally reasonable
sentence is one “‘reasoned,’ or calculated utilizing a legitimate method,” and substantive
reasonableness concerns “the actual length of the sentence imposed” in light of the
§ 3553(a) factors. Id. (quotation omitted).
Other than the District Court’s refusal to apply the sporting-purpose exception to
its Guidelines calculation, Mr. Staser does not challenge any procedural aspect of the
decision. Having held that the District Court did not err in denying application of
§ 2K2.1(b)(2), we turn now to whether the sentence is substantively reasonable. Because
Mr. Staser’s sentence is properly calculated and within the range recommended by the
Guidelines, it is entitled to a presumption of reasonableness on appeal. United States v.
Kristl, 437 F.3d 1050, 1054 (10th Cir. 2006); see also Rita v. United States, 127 S. Ct.
2456, 2462 (2007) (holding that a court of appeals may apply a presumption of
reasonableness to sentences properly calculated under the Guidelines).
Mr. Staser argues that his sentence is unreasonable because it does not reflect his
nonviolent history and the fact that he is a hard worker. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1)
(requiring sentencing court to consider “the history and characteristics of the defendant”).
Appellate Case: 06-8065 Document: 010134307 Date Filed: 09/18/2007 Page: 6
In particular, the court noted Mr. Staser’s long history of alcoholism and drug 3
abuse, as well as his apparent lack of remorse.
- 7 -
In addition, he argues that his sentence is too severe and therefore unjust, see id.
§ 3553(a)(2)(A), because his conviction will prevent him from lawfully possessing
firearms and hunting game birds. According to Mr. Staser, his inability to hunt game
birds is sufficient punishment for his crime. Mr. Staser does not, however, explain why
these circumstances should result in a more lenient sentence than the one the Guidelines
impose. See Rita, 127 S. Ct. at 2470 (concluding that the defendant’s circumstances did
not require a sentence lower than the Guidelines sentence in light of § 3553(a)). The
District Court considered the § 3553(a) factors, including Mr. Staser’s characteristics and
the need for the sentence to provide just punishment, and concluded that a within- 3
Guidelines sentence is appropriate. Mr. Staser’s fourteen-month sentence is therefore
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM Mr. Staser’s sentence