73 Fla. L. Rev. 919 (2021)
View the article via pdf



Federal circuit courts of appeal often disagree about how to interpret the United States Sentencing Guidelines. One contentious guideline is the physical restraint sentencing enhancement. This enhancement increases the sentence of a defendant who physically restrained a victim during a crime. Circuit courts disagree about whether to apply this enhancement to a defendant who points a gun at a victim and tells that victim not to move. Four circuit courts interpret the physical restraint enhancement narrowly and only apply it when a defendant does something highly similar to tying or locking up a victim. Three circuits interpret the enhancement very broadly and uphold the enhancement’s imposition on defendants who do no more than point a gun and instruct a victim not to move. Three other circuits interpret the enhancement broadly but have not explicitly ruled on whether it applies to a defendant who brandishes a firearm and issues a threat. Two circuits take an approach between the other circuits. This Note argues that the text of the enhancement, the relevant commentary in the Guidelines, existing sentencing options, and the American judicial system’s preference for liberty require a narrow interpretation of the physical restraint enhancement. Courts should only apply the enhancement when a defendant restrains a victim by applying force that touches the victim or by confining the victim in a space that appears locked. Regardless of which interpretation is currently correct, the U.S. Sentencing Commission should clarify this issue.