United States v. Mzembe, No. 17-2269 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
In 2015, Brazier, Fields, and Mzembe kidnapped, shot, and ruthlessly beat Harris as he left his home. Charged with federal kidnapping and firearms crimes, the three were tried and sentenced separately. Their appeals were consolidated. The defendants did not challenge their convictions for the underlying crimes of kidnapping or holding Harris for ransom; the two defendants convicted of being felons in possession of firearms did not challenge those convictions. Defendants Fields and Mzembe challenged their convictions and sentencing under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for using and discharging firearms during a crime of violence. The Seventh Circuit reversed those section 924(c) decisions, citing later decisions by the Supreme Court, establishing that the underlying offenses do not qualify categorically as crimes of violence. Under the categorical analysis that applies to both the elements and residual clauses of section 924(c)'s definition of crimes of violence, Mzembe’s and Fields’ convictions for kidnapping and demanding ransom cannot support the mandatory consecutive sentences. The categorical method focuses on the essential elements of the counts of conviction, requiring courts to focus on the least culpable conduct that could violate the relevant statutes, without considering the actual facts of the defendants’ conduct. In resentencing Mzembe and Fields on the remaining charges, however, the court can consider their actual conduct in exercising its discretion under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a).