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United States of America v. DEAN MATTHEWS
Case Number: 20-10554
Judge: Charles R. Wilson
Court: IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office
Atlanta, Georgia - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with a making false statements to a firearms dealer charge.
On September 23, 2019, Dean Matthews pled guilty to a single count of
making a false statement to a firearms dealer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
922(a)(6) and 924(a)(2). According to the plea agreement’s factual proffer, on
April 1, 2019, Matthews attempted to purchase a DPMS Oracle 5.56 rifle from
Mike’s Outdoor Sports/Mike’s Gun Shop (Mike’s Gun Shop), a federally licensed
firearms dealer in Pensacola, Florida. As part of the purchase process, Matthews
completed and signed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
(ATF) Form 4473—the Firearms Transaction Record. However, Matthews was
denied the purchase of the rifle due to his inability to pass a background check. A
subsequent review of Matthews’s ATF Form 4473 revealed that he falsely
answered “no” when asked if he was subject to a court order restraining him from
harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner. At the time of the attempted
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purchase, Matthews was under an injunction restraining him from having any
contact with the listed victim in a pending 2019 felony sexual assault case.
B. PSI and Sentencing
Matthews’s presentence investigation report (PSI) began with a base offense
level of 22, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(3), because (1) the offense involved a
semiautomatic firearm capable of accepting a large capacity magazine, and (2) he
had a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence. The probation officer found
that the firearm “held 31 rounds” and that Matthews’s prior conviction for Florida
felony battery constituted a crime of violence. The offense level was decreased by
three points for timely acceptance of responsibility, for a total offense level of 19.
Matthews’s criminal history was in category III, resulting in an advisory
Guidelines range of 37 to 46 months.
Matthews filed written objections to the PSI’s calculation of his base offense
level, arguing, as relevant here: (1) that his prior felony battery conviction under
Fla. Stat. § 784.041 does not qualify as a crime of violence; and (2) that it was
error to conclude his offense involved a firearm capable of accepting a large
capacity magazine because, at the time of the offense, the rifle was not loaded with
a magazine and Matthews never came into possession of either the rifle or a
magazine. In support of his second objection, Matthews noted that the rifle can
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accommodate different sizes of magazines and that there was no evidence
establishing what magazine, if any, he would have purchased with the rifle.
The district court quickly dispensed with Matthews’s first objection at
sentencing, noting that it was bound by precedent to conclude that Matthews’s
felony battery conviction constituted a crime of violence. See United States v.
Vail-Bailon, 868 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (holding that Florida
felony battery categorically qualifies as a crime of violence).
To rebut Matthews’s second objection, the Government pointed to portions
of Matthews’s PSI which stated that Matthews was “a former infantryman in the
U.S. Army Reserve, trained in combat and marksmanship,” making it “highly
improbable” that he “purchased the firearm in question without knowing it came
with a 30-round magazine and that he would receive both had his application been
approved.” The Government also presented testimony from Mary Evans, the ATF
agent responsible for investigating Matthews’s case. Agent Evans confirmed that
the “standard magazine” for the rifle in question is a 30-round magazine, but noted
that firearms “generally do not have the magazines in” them when people are
looking at them at the store. On cross-examination, Agent Evans admitted that she
did not ask the salesperson whether they discussed with Matthews what type of
magazine would come with the firearm. In response to Agent Evans’s testimony,
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Matthews argued that at the time of the false statement the firearm did not have a
magazine and the facts must be judged at the time of the offense.
The court overruled Matthews’s objections, adopted the recommendations in
the PSI, and ruled:
I think the evidence I heard is that there was no magazine
attached to [the rifle], but I think what I heard was that
[Matthews] was purchasing or attempting to purchase a
specific firearm which comes standard with a magazine of
30 rounds. And so I think I can find, based upon what I’ve
heard, that it had a magazine that could accept more than
15 rounds in close proximity to it.
Finding that Matthews’s criminal history was “underreported”—and the
Guidelines range insufficient—the court sentenced Matthews to a term of 57
months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Matthews timely
On appeal, Matthews raises the same objections to his base offense level that
he did at sentencing, arguing that he does not meet either of the requirements for
enhancing his sentence pursuant to § 2K2.1(a)(3). We address each argument in
A. Large Capacity Magazine
We review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and its
application of the Sentencing Guidelines de novo. United States v. Tejas, 868 F.3d
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1242, 1244 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam). Clear-error review is deferential, and we
will not disturb a district court’s factual findings unless we are left with “a definite
and firm conviction that the court made a mistake.” Id. Importantly, the clearerror standard “plainly does not entitle a reviewing court to reverse the finding of
the trier of fact simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case
differently.” Anderson v. City of Bessemer, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985). Thus, we
may not reverse “[i]f the district court’s account of the evidence is plausible in
light of the record viewed in its entirety.” Id. at 573–74.
When a defendant challenges one of the factual bases of a sentence
enhancement, the Government has the burden of establishing the disputed fact by a
preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Little, 864 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th
Cir. 2017). “This burden requires the trier of fact to believe that the existence of a
fact is more probable than its nonexistence.” United States v. Almedina, 686 F.3d
1312, 1315 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). The sentencing
court’s factual findings may be based upon facts admitted by the defendant’s guilty
plea, undisputed statements in the PSI, or evidence presented at the sentencing
hearing. United States v. Martinez, 584 F.3d 1022, 1027 (11th Cir. 2009). The
court may also make reasonable inferences from the evidence. United States v.
Green, 981 F.3d 945, 953 (11th Cir. 2020); see also United States v. Philidor, 717
F.3d 883, 885 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (stating that at sentencing, a district
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court could make inferences “based on common sense and ordinary human
“When interpreting the Guidelines, a guideline’s meaning is derived first
from its plain language and, absent ambiguity, no additional inquiry is necessary.”
United States v. Gordillo, 920 F.3d 1292, 1297 (11th Cir. 2019) (internal quotation
mark omitted). “Commentary in the Guidelines Manual that interprets or explains
a guideline is authoritative unless it violates the Constitution or a federal statute, or
is inconsistent with, or a plainly erroneous reading of, that guideline.” Id.
The district court applies a base offense level of 22 for making a false
statement to a firearms dealer “if (A) the offense involved a . . . semiautomatic
firearm that is capable of accepting a large capacity magazine . . . and (B) the
defendant committed any part of the instant offense subsequent to sustaining one
felony conviction of . . . a crime of violence.” U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(3). The
commentary defines a “semiautomatic firearm that is capable of accepting a large
capacity magazine” as
a semiautomatic firearm that has the ability to fire many
rounds without reloading because at the time of the offense
(A) the firearm had attached to it a magazine or similar
device that could accept more than 15 rounds of
ammunition; or (B) a magazine or similar device that
could accept more than 15 rounds of ammunition was in
close proximity to the firearm.
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Id. § 2K2.1 cmt. n.2 (emphasis added). The district court concluded that
Matthews’s offense involved the latter—that is, that a magazine capable of
accepting more than 15 rounds of ammunition “was in close proximity” to the rifle.
Neither we nor our sister circuits have published an opinion addressing how
the sentencing enhancement under § 2K2.1(a)(3) applies when the underlying
offense is making a false statement to a firearms dealer. But we have interpreted
the definition of a semiautomatic firearm that is capable of accepting a large
capacity magazine in cases involving the offense of being a felon in possession of
In those cases, we interpreted the phrase “capable of accepting a large
capacity magazine” to be “words of possibility, not actuality,” and the phrase “at
the time of offense” to modify the following subparts. United States v. Evans, 958
F.3d 1102, 1108 (11th Cir. 2020). We have also discussed the meaning of “close
proximity”—based on its plain meaning and in light of our caselaw interpreting
application note 14 to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1—in the context of close proximity
between firearms and drugs in drug trafficking offenses, and concluded that close
proximity “encompasses both physical distance and accessibility.” Gordillo, 920
F.3d at 1298–1300 (emphases omitted). We adopted Gordillo’s approach to
determine that a semiautomatic weapon in a case located outside a residence was in
close proximity to a large capacity magazine in a bedroom drawer within the
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residence. United States v. Ochoa, 941 F.3d 1074, 1109–10 (11th Cir. 2019), cert.
denied, 140 S. Ct. 2553 (2020) (mem.).
We have also discussed the history of U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1, which was
amended in response to the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. See
Gordillo, 920 F.3d at 1298. In Gordillo, we stated that, while the amendment
history did not address the “close proximity” requirement, “the Commission
believed the enhanced base offense levels should continue to apply to ‘these types
of firearms’ . . . . [which] suggests the Commission was concerned with identifying
the type of gun—making sure the component parts were all present and could be
identified as part of a corresponding firearm and magazine.” Id. We further noted
that the sentencing enhancements in the Guidelines “are intended to punish
firearms crimes involving particularly dangerous types of weapons.” Id. at 1300.
We can find no basis in the record on which to overturn the district court’s
factual findings regarding the close proximity of a large capacity magazine to the
rifle Matthews attempted to purchase, nor in its legal conclusion that the offense
conduct met the standard for the Guidelines enhancement. Matthews attempted to
purchase a semiautomatic rifle that comes standard with a 30-round magazine and
committed the offense of making false statements to a firearm dealer while inside
Mike’s Gun Shop, which sells both firearms and magazines. Based on these facts,
it was reasonable for the district court to infer that a magazine capable of accepting
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more than 15 rounds of ammunition—that comes “standard” with the rifle—was in
close proximity to the rifle Matthews sought to purchase. See Gordillo, 920 F.3d
at 1300 (rejecting the argument that a firearm and magazine could not be in “close
proximity” if they were stored separately); see also United States v. Chavez, 584
F.3d 1354, 1367 (11th Cir. 2009) (finding a sentencing court was “free to make” a
reasonable inference that is not “speculative to the point of being clearly
We also find that the application of the large-capacity magazine
enhancement in this context—the attempted purchase of a semiautomatic rifle by
an individual subject to a restraining order—furthers the policy rationale behind §
2K2.1 of punishing firearm crimes involving “dangerous types of weapons.” See
Gordillo, 920 F.3d at 1300.
Because the district court’s account of the evidence “is plausible in light of
the record viewed in its entirety,” we affirm Matthews’s sentence as to this issue.
See Anderson, 470 U.S. at 574.
B. Crime of Violence
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“We review de novo whether a defendant’s prior conviction qualifies as a
crime of violence under the Sentencing Guidelines.” United States v. Estrada, 777
F.3d 1318, 1321 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam).
Sitting en banc, we held that a conviction for felony battery under Fla. Stat.
§ 784.041 is categorically a crime of violence. Vail-Bailon, 868 F.3d at 1308.
Under the prior-precedent rule, we are bound to follow binding precedent “unless
and until it is overruled or undermined to the point of abrogation by the Supreme
Court or by this court sitting en banc.” United States v. Sneed, 600 F.3d 1326,
1332 (11th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s determination
that Matthews’s prior conviction for Florida felony battery constitutes a crime of
Outcome: For the foregoing reasons, the rulings of the district court are AFFIRMED.