Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Case of the Polite Bank Robber

Bank robbers get a two-level sentencing enhancement for making a death threat. But all bank robberies involve some explicit or implicit threat of harm. So, says the 11th Circuit, we must distinguish between "less bad" bank robberies and worse ones when we decide who qualifies for the death-threat enhancement. This unarmed robber walked into two different banks, gave the tellers notes asking for money and telling them he "had kids to feed," and then "bargained pleasantly" for the money. Even though his notes stated that "no one would get hurt" if the tellers gave him the money, he never stated or implied that he had a weapon, and the tellers did not act as if they feared him. The court held that his actions would not have caused a reasonable person to fear for their life, and he should not have received the enhancement. 

In fact, in this case the government agreed that the robber should not have received the death-threat enhancement. The 11th Circuit appointed a lawyer as amicus to defend the district court's ruling.

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