United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Cook pled guilty on April 4, 2017, to the four counts of his
indictment: count one, conspiracy to violate the Animal
Welfare Act, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, 7 U.S.C.
§§ 2156(a)(1) and 2145(b), and 18 U.S.C. §
49(a); count two, sponsoring and exhibiting an animal in an
animal fighting venture and aiding and abetting, in violation
of 7 U.S.C. §§ 2156(a)(1), 18 U.S.C. § 49(a)
and 18 U.S.C. § 2; count three, attending an animal
fighting venture, in violation of 7 U.S.C. §
2156(a)(2)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 49; and count twenty-one,
possessing animals for purposes of participating in an animal
fighting venture, in violation of 7 U.S.C. § 2156(b) and
18 U.S.C. § 49(b).
November 27, 2017, the government moved for an upward
departure at sentencing pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2E3.1.
Defendant appeared before the Court sentencing on December 1,
2017, and was notified that the Court contemplated the
possibility of an upward departure. Defendant was sentenced
to a term of 45 months' imprisonment on counts one, two,
and twenty-one, and 12 months on count three, concurrent, in
the Bureau of Prisons. The Court makes the following findings
in support of its upward variance sentence.
to 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), a sentencing court has a duty to
"impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than
necessary, to comply with the purposes set forth in the
[sentencing statute]." Once the defendant's
Guidelines sentencing range has been established, the
sentencing court must decide "whether a sentence within
that range serves the factors set forth in §
3553(a)and, if not, select a sentence within
statutory limits that does serve those factors."
United States v. Tucker, 473 F.3d 556, 560 (4th Cir.
2007) (internal quotation and citation omitted). After
permitting the parties to argue with regard to sentencing,
the court should "consider all of the § 3553(a)
factors to determine whether they support the sentence
requested by a party." Gall v. United States,
552 U.S. 38, 49-50 (2007). The court must then "make an
individualized assessment based on the facts presented, [and
if it] decides that an outside-Guidelines sentence is
warranted, [it] must consider the extent of the deviation and
ensure that the justification is sufficiently compelling to
support the degree of the variance." Id. at 50.
The "method of deviation from the Guidelines
range-whether by departure or by varying-is irrelevant so
long as at least one rationale is justified and
reasonable." United States v. Diosdado-Star,
630 F.3d 359, 365-66 (4th Cir. 2011).
sentencing hearing, the Court found that defendant's
advisory Guidelines range, as calculated by the Probation
Office, was 15-21 months' imprisonment, based on a total
offense level of 16 and a criminal history category of I. The
maximum sentence applicable on either count is five
years' imprisonment. The Court finds the Presentence
Investigation Report ("PSR") to be credible and
hereby adopts the findings therein.
considered the PSR, the arguments of counsel with regard to
sentencing, and the factors enumerated in § 3553(a), the
Court finds that a variance sentence is appropriate in this
begin, the Court finds that a departure from the Guidelines
is warranted. The sentencing guidelines for animal fighting
ventures were recently updated to better account for the
cruelty and violence inherent in participating in such
activity. U.S.S.G. §2E3.1. But the guidelines do not
distinguish between different categories of offenders.
Specifically, the guidelines do not differentiate between
those offenders who engage in animal fighting once or twice
and those who offend repeatedly over a long period of time.
Because of this, the guidelines specifically account for the
possibility of an upward departure for those offenses
involving extraordinary cruelty or on an exceptional scale.
first became involved in dog fighting when he was fourteen or
fifteen years old. Dog fighting is a manifestation of
brutality. The dogs involved are often abused. They are
trained to bite and not let go, and suffer horrific injuries,
some of which lead to their deaths. His property was designed
for dog fighting, including a training shed, numerous outdoor
dog shelters, and a spring-loaded rope hanging from a tree in
order to train dogs to bite. Defendant had canine treadmills,
bite sticks, medicine, heavy chains, and weighted collars. He
had 23 pit bulls on his property at his arrest. They were
chained to the ground outdoors, at the mercy of the elements.
The dogs were underweight, malnourished, and in need of
medical care. One dog had a puncture wound, while another had
a fluid-filled abscess. Others suffered from wounds, broken
teeth, and scarring. Defendant not only fought his dogs, but
was also deeply involved in managing bloodlines in order to
continue to fight dogs in the future. He bred dogs and kept
track of their pedigrees. Defendant was also active on
Facebook, messaging about dog fighting, giving advice, and
bragging about the abilities of his dogs. The scale of
defendant's involvement is exactly what was contemplated
by the statute when providing for an upward departure.
variance is also needed to comport with § 3553(a). A
longer sentence would more appropriately reflect the
seriousness of the crimes at issue here. As discussed above,
dog fighting is a cruel enterprise. These offenses are
serious and the sentence should match them. Dog fighting was
an intrinsic part of defendant's personal life, and he
kept celebratory paraphernalia related to it. When another
individual was arrested for dog fighting, defendant reacted
by expressing disappointment that his dogs would no longer be
available. Because of the seriousness of the crime,
defendant's lack of respect for the law, and the
overarching need for deterrence, an upward variance is
a sentence within the Guidelines range would be insufficient
to adequately serve the § 3553(a) factors and the
purposes of the sentencing statute. After considering
defendant's individual circumstances and the facts of
this case, the Court holds that a variance sentence of 45
months' imprisonment is appropriate and reasonable in
this matter, taking into account defendant's plea to all
four counts of his indictment and his military service. This
Court also imposes a term of three years' supervised
release, on the condition that defendant no engage in any
activity related in any fashion to dog fighting, or owning,
harboring, possessing or caring for any dog without the
approval of the Probation Office.
 The factors set forth in §