District Judge: 2nd Deg. Assault NOT a Crime of Violence

Federal Criminal Defense Baltimore, Maryland

Judge Deborah Chasanow, a United States District Judge in the District of Maryland, has held that that a conviction under Maryland’s second-degree assault statute does not count as a crime of violence for purposes of a sentencing enhancement. In the case, United States v. Barrett Allen West, Judge Chasanow built upon the foundation laid by the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Gomez, which held that a similar statute could not be considered as a crime of violence.

The issue is a technical one — explained more thoroughly below in a blog entry about Gomez — but it could have sweeping consequences if more federal judges follow Judge Chasanow’s lead.  Every year dozens of federal defendants in Maryland receive harsh sentences based on their prior records — they are categorized as either career offenders or armed career criminals. Oftentimes these sentencing enhancements are based upon one or more conviction for second-degree assault. Sometimes second-degree assault can be for a very minor infraction, such as a pushing match between two family members. However, it can have a disproportionate effect on a federal sentence, even if it happened more than a decade ago. Sometimes one second-degree assault conviction is the difference between a five-year federal sentence and a 15-year sentence.

If Judge Chasanow’s ruling sticks, many defendants will benefit, including, perhaps, those who have already received a harsh federal sentence. It is worth noting that Judge Chasanow is currently the chief judge of the district, and is widely regarded on the bench.