On appeal from The United States District Court for the District of Kansas - Kansas City ">

Please E-mail suggested additions, comments and/or corrections to Kent@MoreLaw.Com.

Help support the publication of case reports on MoreLaw

Date: 11-20-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. Richard A. James, Jr.

Case Number: 18-3227

Judge: Michael R. Murphy

On appeal from The United States District Court for the District of Kansas - Kansas City

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office

Defendant's Attorney:

Denver, CO - Best Criminal Defense Lawyer Directory


Denver, CO - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with a forcibly assaulting a federal prison official charge.

James assaulted Wilson, a “Unit Manager” with the Bureau of Prisons, as
Wilson was walking along a row of cells. James attacked Wilson from behind,
stabbing him repeatedly in the face and neck with a pair of scissors. Wilson was
taken to the Health Services Unit of the prison, where an initial examination
revealed he had three puncture wounds to the back of his head and neck; a deep
laceration behind his left ear; at least six lacerations on his face; jaw pain;
swelling on top of his head; and multiple abrasions on his left arm, left shoulder,
upper chest, and left hand. The puncture wounds and lacerations were actively
bleeding. Wilson was transported to Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital in
Leavenworth, Kansas. The examining physician observed that one of the wounds
was of particular concern because of its proximity to the carotid artery. Hospital
1All citations to the United States Sentencing Guidelines in this opinion are
to the 2016 version.
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 2
records reflect a clinical impression of: traumatic head injury with multiple
lacerations; abrasions at multiple sites; and contusions of the face, right knee, and
left rib.
After James pleaded guilty to violating § 111, the United States Probation
Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). The PSR calculated
James’s advisory guidelines range at 108 to 135 months’ imprisonment based on a
criminal history category of III and a total offense level of twenty-nine. In
concluding James’s total offense level was twenty-nine, the PSR added seven
levels because the offense involved permanent or life-threatening bodily injury.
See U.S.S.G. § 2A2.2(B)(3)(C).
James challenged the PSR’s recommendation that his total offense level be
increased seven levels pursuant to § 2A2.2(b)(3)(C). He conceded his total
offense level should be increased by five levels because Wilson suffered “serious
bodily injury.” See id. § 2A2.2(b)(3)(B). He argued, however, that the seven2The base offense level for a violation of § 111 is fourteen. U.S.S.G.
§ 2A2.2(a). The PSR added four levels because a dangerous weapon was used,
id. § 2A2.2(b)(2), and seven levels because the offense involved permanent or
life-threatening injury, id. § 2A2.2(b)(3)(C). The PSR subtracted one level
because the cumulative adjustments from application of §§ 2A2.2(b)(2) and (b)(3)
exceeded ten levels. U.S.S.G. § 2A2.2(b)(3). The PSR added two levels because
James was convicted under § 111(b), id. § 2A2.2(b)(7), and six levels because the
assault occurred while James was incarcerated, id. § 3A1.2(c)(2). The resulting
offense level of thirty-two was decreased by three because James accepted
responsibility when he pleaded guilty. Id. § 3E1.1(b).
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 3
level increase set out in § 2A2.2(b)(3)(C) did not apply because Wilson’s injuries
were not permanent or life threatening. The government supported the
§ 2A2.2(b)(3)(C) enhancement and, furthermore, asked for an upward variance
and/or departure from the advisory guidelines range to the statutory maximum.
See 18 U.S.C. § 111(b) (providing for an enhanced maximum penalty of twenty
years’ imprisonment when an assault on a federal official involves the “use of a
deadly or dangerous weapon . . . or inflicts bodily injury”). In support of its
request for a statutory maximum sentence, the government argued: (1) James’s
pre-offense conduct demonstrated a propensity for unprovoked and unpredictable
violence; (2) the assault on Wilson was committed in a calculated and egregious
manner; (3) James’s post-offense conduct demonstrated future dangerousness.
The district court held an evidentiary hearing at which Wilson and others
testified. Wilson had seventeen stab wounds and lost a “tremendous amount of
blood.” James became increasingly aggressive as the attack continued and Wilson
thought James would kill him. Wilson was treated for lacerations, abrasions, and
contusions. One of the stab wounds was millimeters from Wilson’s carotid artery
and doctors had trouble controlling the bleeding. In addition to the injuries to his
face and neck, Wilson tore his right meniscus when James pulled him down a
flight of stairs. Wilson had surgery but will need knee replacement in the future
because he now has trouble walking. Wilson also suffered a dislocated jaw,
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 4
which resulted in continuing migraines and dental problems. The only way to
alleviate these ongoing problems would be to break and reset Wilson’s jaw. A
Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent testified James attacked Wilson
with a pair of beard shears James modified to have sharp ends. James told the
agent no one put him up to the attack and he did it because he wanted a “change
of scenery.” Finally, a BOP officer testified James was involved in another
altercation just a few weeks after the attack on Wilson. During a fight between
other inmates, James attempted to intervene by passing a thirteen-inch shank to
one of the inmates. The government argued the evidence showed James’s
predisposition for unprovoked and unpredictable violence, the calculated and
egregious manner of the attack, and James’s continued violent conduct after the
The district court concluded James should receive a six-level increase to his
offense level under § 2A2.2(b)(3)(E) because he caused injuries to Wilson that
constituted more than “serious bodily injury” under § 2A2.2(b)(3)(B), but less
than “permanent or life-threatening bodily injury,” under § 2A2.2(b)(3)(C).
3 The
In so ruling, the district court highlighted, inter alia, the following
evidence: (1) Wilson made repeated trips to the emergency room to drain facial
scars, followed by rounds of antibiotics; (2) Wilson had a procedure to remove
skin that was causing infections; (3) Wilson has scarring on his face and head
from the stab wounds, which scarring still causes discomfort; (4) Wilson’s jaw
was dislocated, the dislocation has not fully healed, and the resulting
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 5
district court reasoned that Wilson’s injuries constituted more than “serious
bodily injury,” which means “an injury involving extreme physical pain or the
protracted impairment of a function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty;
or requiring medical intervention such as surgery, hospitalization or physical
rehabilitation.” See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.1 cmt. n.1(L). The injuries did not, however,
rise to the level of being permanent or life-threatening, which the Sentencing
Guidelines define as an “injury involving a substantial risk of death; loss or
substantial impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ or mental
faculty that is likely to be permanent; or an obvious disfigurement that is likely to
be permanent.” Id. § 1B1.1 cmt. n.1(J). The district court, therefore, sustained in
part and overruled in part James’s objection to the seven-level enhancement set
out in § 2A2.2(b)(3)(C). Based on this determination, James’s total offense level
remained at twenty-nine and the resulting advisory Guidelines range remained at
108-135 months’ imprisonment.
misalignment of his teeth results in grinding and weekly migraine headaches;
(5) Wilson tore his meniscus in his right knee during the attack, a repair attempt
was not completely successful, he still experiences pain in his right knee and
wears a brace with regularity, and his physician advised him that the only
recourse available is knee replacement surgery; (6) Wilson suffers emotional and
psychological difficulties since the attack, including trouble sleeping and
4This is because of the impact of U.S.S.G. § 2A2.2(b)(3), which limits the
cumulative adjustments from application of §§ 2A2.2(b)(2) and 2A2.2(b)(3) to a
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 6
In announcing James’s sentence, the district court recognized it was
required “to impose a sentence that is sufficient but not greater than necessary,”
18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2), and noted it had considered the Sentencing Guidelines,
the PSR, and the statements of the parties. It acknowledged the advisory
Guidelines range was 108 to 135 months’ imprisonment and stated, in accordance
with 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), it had considered the nature and circumstances of the
offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant. In that vein, the
district court noted it considered “the extremely serious nature of the instant
offense,” as well as “the extremely serious nature of defendant’s criminal
history.” The district court noted James’s 2015 conviction involved robbing a
store at knife point and threatening officers with a knife as they attempted to
arrest him. The district court then described the instant offense as “a calculated
attack.” It considered James’s statements to the FBI after the attack, specifically
his assertion he attacked Wilson in order to obtain a “change of scenery.” The
district court noted the scissors used by James were capable of inflicting lethal
injuries to Wilson and that the treating physician indicated a stab wound was mere
millimeters away from Wilson’s carotid artery. In addition, the district court
considered James’s past mental health diagnoses and treatment, which began
total of ten levels. See supra n.2.
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 7
when James was young. The district court determined, based on the facts
presented, an upward departure from the advisory guidelines range was warranted
under U.S.S.G. §§ 5K2.2 and 5K2.21.
5 The district court likewise concluded an
upward variance was warranted based on the factors set out in 18 U.S.C.
§ 3553(a). It explained that a sentence of 180 months’ imprisonment was
“sufficient but not greater than necessary” to reflect the seriousness of the
offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment for the offense,
afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct, and protect the public from
further crimes of the defendant.
“Reasonableness review is a two-step process comprising a procedural and
a substantive component.” United States v. Verdin-Garcia, 516 F.3d 884, 895
(10th Cir. 2008). James asserts the district court committed procedural error
when it concluded he inflicted on Wilson bodily injuries that were more than
5Section 5K2.2, which authorizes an upward departure for significant
physical injury to a victim, specifically advises that “[t]he extent of the increase
ordinarily should depend on . . . the extent to which the injury was intended or
knowingly risked.” Section 5K2.21 permits an upward departure “to reflect the
actual seriousness of the offense[] based on conduct . . . underlying a potential
charge not pursued in the case.” In that regard, the PSR indicated the district
court might “consider whether the facts of this case establish by a preponderance
of the evidence the defendant’s intent to commit the crimes of Assault With Intent
to Commit Murder, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(1), or Attempted Murder,
pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1113.”
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 8
serious. He also asserts that whether viewed as a variance or a departure, the
180-month sentence imposed by the district court is substantively unreasonable.
Under procedural-reasonableness review, this court “asks whether the
sentencing court committed any error in calculating or explaining the sentence.”
United States v. Alapizco-Valenzuela, 546 F.3d 1208, 1214 (10th Cir. 2008).
Procedural errors include “failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the
Guidelines range, treating the Guidelines as mandatory, failing to consider the
§ 3553(a) factors, selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts, or failing
to adequately explain the chosen sentence.” Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38,
51 (2007). In reviewing the district court’s sentence for procedural
reasonableness, this court reviews the district court’s legal conclusions de novo
and its factual findings for clear error. United States v. Shuck, 713 F.3d 563, 570
(10th Cir. 2013). “A finding is clearly erroneous only if it is without factual
support in the record or if, after reviewing all the evidence, we are left with a
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” United States v.
Shippley, 690 F.3d 1192, 1199 (10th Cir. 2012) (quotation and alteration omitted).
Notably, this court has held that the “district court’s determination of the
significance of a bodily injury is a finding of fact we review for clear error.”
United States v. Perkins, 132 F.3d 1324, 1326 (10th Cir. 1997); see also United
States v. Mejia-Canales, 467 F.3d 1280, 1282 (10th Cir. 2006).
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 9
This court reviews the substantive reasonableness of “all sentences—
whether inside, just outside, or significantly outside the Guidelines range—under
a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 41. In undertaking
that deferential review, this court looks to the “totality of the circumstances.”
United States v. Cookson, 922 F.3d 1079, 1090 (10th Cir. 2019) (quotation
omitted). “A district court abuses its discretion when it renders a judgment that is
arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, or manifestly unreasonable.” Id. (quotation
omitted). “[S]ubstantive reasonableness addresses whether the length of the
sentence is reasonable given all the circumstances of the case in light of the
factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).” United States v. Huckins, 529 F.3d
1312, 1317 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). “We bear in mind that the
sentencing judge is in a superior position to find facts and judge their import
under § 3553(a) in the individual case because the judge sees and hears the
evidence, makes credibility determinations, has full knowledge of the facts and
gains insights not conveyed by the record.” Cookson, 922 F.3d at 1091
(quotations, alteration, and citation omitted). For that reason, in reviewing the
substantive reasonableness of a sentence, this court “may not examine the weight
a district court assigns to various § 3553(a) factors, and its ultimate assessment of
the balance between them, as a legal conclusion to be reviewed de novo. Instead,
we must give due deference to the district court’s decision that the § 3553(a)
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 10
factors, on a whole, justify the extent of the variance.” United States v. Smart,
518 F.3d 800, 808 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). The district court need
not afford equal weight to each § 3553(a) factor, and this court “will defer on
substantive-reasonableness review not only to a district court’s factual findings
but also to its determinations of the weight to be afforded to such findings.”
Cookson, 922 F.3d at 1094 (quotation omitted).
A. Procedural Reasonableness
The district court did not clearly err in determining Wilson’s bodily injuries
fell somewhere between serious and permanent or life-threatening. See U.S.S.G.
§ 1B1.1 cmt. nn.1(J), 1(L). The record reveals that the numerous puncture
wounds James inflicted on Wilson resulted in permanent facial scarring. That
scarring resulted in several trips to the emergency room in the aftermath of the
attack. The scars would swell up with infection and result in a “large bloody
mass” on Wilson’s face. The scars would have to be drained and Wilson placed
on intravenous antibiotics. Ultimately, Wilson had to have plastic surgery to
remove skin from his face that was causing the recurring infections.
6 The scars
6Wilson testified as follows as to this surgery:
[Answer]: The doctor informed my wife and I, what he did
was he removed the large chunk of skin completely because it was a
hair follicle that was growing back into my body. So, he removed
the hair follicle, and then he stitched my face back together without
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 11
continue to cause Wilson discomfort. In particular, Wilson’s facial scars are
“tender,” “sunburn easily,” and “swell[] up a lot of times.” Wilson’s jaw was
dislocated during the attack and the injury never healed completely.
Misalignment of Wilson’s teeth results in grinding, different chew patterns, and
migraine headaches. The migraines occur “a couple times a week” and have not
reduced in intensity or frequency since the attack. The only potential treatment
for the dislocation is breaking and resetting the jaw. Finally, Wilson suffered an
injury to his knee during the attack that could not be fully corrected through
surgery. The knee injury prevents Wilson from engaging in physical activities
(like running) that he was able to enjoy before the attack. The knee injury causes
Wilson constant pain and “a lot of problems walking.” Wilson also regularly
wears a brace to deal with weakness in the knee. The only way to remedy the
knee pain is with a knee replacement. Wilson’s doctor told him, however, that he
would not “support” a knee replacement, nor would insurance cover it, because of
Wilson’s young age. Given all this evidence, the district court did not err, let
requiring any skin grafting, because it would be hard to match the
skin color with any other part of your body on your face.
[Question]: Do you have a scar from that?
[Answer]: I have a very large scar. . . .
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 12
alone clearly err, in determining Wilson’s injuries, even if not “permanent,” were
greater than the types of “serious” injuries defined in § 1B1.1 cmt. n.1(L).
In resisting this conclusion, James asserts Wilson’s injuries are nothing
more than “serious” because they could be remedied through skin-graft surgery,
breaking and resetting Wilson’s jaw, and knee replacement. In support of this
assertion, James relies on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in United States v.
Webster, 500 F.3d 606, 607–08 (7th Cir. 2007). In so arguing, however, James
entirely fails to account for the record evidence indicating knee replacement is not
a viable option for Wilson’s knee injury until some time far into the future and
problems finding compatible skin for grafting could render further plastic surgery
on the facial scars inadvisable. In any event, James’s reliance on Webster is
entirely misplaced. Webster makes clear that in assessing the applicability of a
§ 2A2.2(b)(3) offense-level enhancement, district courts should generally take
victims as they are:
Uncertainty does not preclude a finding of permanence. Instead of
asking whether a victim’s future might be brighter, a district court
should act on the basis of the victim’s current condition and current
medical information. If an impairment has not been corrected by the
time of sentencing, and will last for life unless surgically corrected in
the future, then it should be treated as “permanent” under the
Guidelines unless future correction would be a straightforward
500 F.3d at 608. The record here shows that at the time of sentencing Wilson
suffered something approaching permanent injuries. Furthermore, there is no
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 13
indication in the record any possible future surgical corrections would entail
straightforward procedures. Indeed, the record makes clear that is not the case.
Thus, Webster does not remotely support James’s assertions the district court
erred in concluding Wilson’s injury were more than serious.
B. Substantive Reasonableness
This court need not linger on James’s substantive reasonableness argument
because it is utterly lacking in merit. Given the brutal, calculated, and
remorseless attack by James on Wilson and the overwhelming evidence, in the
form of his pre-and post-attack criminal conduct, that James is a danger to
society, the district court’s determination that a 180-month sentence is necessary
to account for the sentencing factors set out in § 3553(a) is eminently reasonable.
The district court carefully considered all of the requisite factors in
conducting its detailed, individualized assessment of James’s situation. Before
imposing sentence, it considered the Sentencing Guidelines, the PSR, the
7Given that Webster does not support James’s arguments on appeal, this
court need not, and does not, decide whether the potential for future surgical
repair, even if objectively straightforward, is enough to render an injury
8The § 3553(a) factors include the nature and circumstances of the offense
and characteristics of the defendant; the need for the sentence to reflect the
seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment,
afford adequate deterrence, and protect the public from further crimes of the
defendant; and the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among
defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.
18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 14
statements of the parties, and the victim’s statements. It considered the extremely
serious nature of the instant offense, as well as the extremely serious nature of
James’s criminal history. The district court elaborated that the attack was a
brutal, unprovoked act that could have cost Wilson his life and imposed upon
Wilson severe, lifetime impacts. The district court considered James’s statements
after the attack, specifically his comment that he attacked Wilson in order to
obtain a transfer. The district court also considered the criminal act that led to
James’s incarceration and his involvement in prison violence a mere two weeks
after the attack. The district court balanced these factors against James’s
significant mental health issues. The district court explained that a sentence of
180 months was “sufficient but not greater than necessary” to reflect the
seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, provide just punishment
for the offense, afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct, and protect the
public from further crimes of the defendant. It told James, “it does appear that
there has been a—a pattern in your past and now present regarding engaging in
violent or potentially life threatening criminal conduct, and there does need to be
some deterrence to that, as well as protect the public from that type of conduct
from you.”
Ultimately, James simply disagrees with the manner in which the district
court weighed the § 3553(a) sentencing factors in deciding to impose the 180-
Appellate Case: 18-3227 Document: 010110285802 Date Filed: 01/09/2020 Page: 15
month sentence. It is not, however, “the job of an appellate court to review de
novo the balance struck by a district court among the factors set out in § 3553(a).”
United States v. Sells, 541 F.3d 1227, 1239 (10th Cir. 2008). Because the district
court’s sentence falls within the realm of rationally available sentencing choices,
it is substantively reasonable.

Outcome: For those reasons set out above, the sentence imposed by the United States
District Court for the District of Kansas is hereby AFFIRMED.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


Find a Lawyer


Find a Case