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In Summary Order, Court Remands Obstruction Enhancement for Further Findings of Fact

In a summary order issued yesterday in United States v. Munteanu, No. 16-1254, the Second Circuit (Winter, Cabranes, Lynch) reiterated that a district court must make findings of fact before imposing an obstruction of justice enhancement over a defendant’s objection. Munteanu received an enhancement based on a single statement in his affidavit in support of his suppression motion, and another made during the plea colloquy. The district court stated that it “came down on [the government’s] side of the argument” and adopted the Presentence Report, but did not otherwise make any factual findings on the record. The Court remanded for resentencing without prejudice to reconsideration of the enhancement after making specific findings of fact. In dictum, the panel also encouraged the district court to provide a “full explanation of the reasons” for selecting a sentence, which “greatly aids” the court in appellate review; to explicitly state its Guidelines range calculation; and to verify that Munteanu and his attorney had read and discussed the Presentence Report.

The panel’s request that the district court reconsider the imposition of the enhancement in light of the Court’s recent decision in United States v. Thompson, 808 F.3d 190 (2015), seems to indicate that the panel may have had a concern about whether the evidence supports the enhancement. Thompson requires that the district court make a specific finding that the defendant purposefully lied; here, it appears that the evidence of perjury stemmed from the fact that the defendant testified in support of an unsuccessful motion. This fact—standing alone—is not enough to support an obstruction enhancement. On remand, the trial court may take this hint and decide not to impose the enhancement, or at a minimum, make a record that will satisfy the concerns of the panel.

-By Brandon Trice and Harry Sandick