Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ciszkowski: Silencer did not manipulate sentence

In U.S. v. Ciszkowski, No. 06-12592 (July 20, 2007), the Court affirmed the convictions and sentence of a defendant convicted of murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958 and possession of a firearm with silencer in furtherance of a crime of violence and drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) and (c)(1)(B)(ii). The murder for hire offense carried a ten-year maximum; the silencer count carried a 30-year mandatory minimum. The trial court
The Court rejected the argument that the jury should have been instructed that, for the silencer count, it had to find that the defendant had knowledge of the silencer. The Court found that this was not an element of the offense, but a sentencing factor. The Court noted that someone who violated § 924(c) had already demonstrated a "vicious will," and that there was no risk of punishing an innocent actor by applying the silencer enhancement. Further, the silencer only increased the statutory minimum, not the statutory maximum, for a § 924(c) violation.
The Court also rejected Ciszkowski’s "sentencing manipulation" challenge to the reasonableness of his sentence. The defendant claimed that he had never seen the silencer that was hidden in the suitcase that was given to him by a government informant as part of the sting murder for hire. He claimed that the silencer had been put in the suitcase only to increase the mandatory minimum to 30 years. The Court recognized that "if the government provided a undetectably silenced weapon in a circumstance where the firearm or the silencer was completely unrelated to the accompanying criminal act, we might be inclined to find improper sentencing manipulation in such a case." Here, however, because the silencer was to be used for a murder for hire, a muzzled firearm was an appropriate weapon for the government to provide.