United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
30, 2017, defendant, Ronnie Thompson, pleaded guilty pursuant
to a plea agreement to counts one and four of the superseding
indictment charging him with conspiracy to violate the Animal
Welfare Act in violation of 18 U.S.C. §371 and7U.S.C.
§2156 and sponsoring and exhibiting an animal in an
animal fighting venture in violation of 7 U.S.C. §
2156(a)(1). Prior to sentencing, the government moved for an
upward departure and/or variance from Thompson's advisory
Sentencing Guidelines range pursuant to Application Note 2 of
U.S.S.G. § 2E3.1 due to Thompson's extreme cruelty
to dogs and animal fighting on an exceptional scale and
pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K2.21 for dismissed and
uncharged conduct. Thompson appeared before the Court for
sentencing on December 22, 2017, at Raleigh, North Carolina
and was sentenced to a total term of forty-eight months'
imprisonment. The Court makes the following findings in
support of its 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 United
States Sentencing 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 determined that Thompson's
advisory Sentencing Guidelines range was twenty-four to
thirty months' imprisonment as calculated by the United
States Probation Office. Neither Thompson nor the government
offered any objections to the Guidelines range finding. The
Court finds the Presentence Investigation Report
("PSR") to be credible and hereby adopts the
findings therein. Having considered the PSR, the arguments of
counsel with regard to sentencing, and the factors enumerated
in § 3553(a), the Court finds that an upward variance
sentence is appropriate. The government's motion for
upward variance [DE 348] is GRANTED.
is a long-time trainer, conditioner, and sponsor of pit bull
dogs for fighting. Thompson was the sponsor or trainer of
three dogs involved in three different fights which were
surveilled by law enforcement in this case. The fights
typically lasted close to two hours and at least one losing
dog died from injuries sustained during the fight.
pit bull type dogs were seized from property where Thompson
was living,  and twenty-four of those dogs had to be
euthanized because they could not be safely placed in other
homes. Inside Thompson's home, a female pit bull and her
new litter were contained in a single crate covered in feces
and roundworms. Evidence seized on execution of the search
warrant included training chains and heavy collars used to
condition dogs, break sticks, medical supplies, and steroids
commonly used to condition dogs. The dogs located at this
property were housed in extremely poor conditions, many dogs
were found to be severely underweight, and many had suffered
serious injuries as an apparent result of fighting, including
one dog which had lost a leg. Even some of the youngest
puppies seized from this property exhibited fearsomely
aggressive behavior when analyzed by staff of the American
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
considering the defendant's individual circumstances and
the facts of this case, the Court holds that upwardly variant
sentence of forty-eight months' imprisonment is
appropriate and reasonable. The applicable advisory
Guidelines range of twenty-four to thirty months'
imprisonment woefully underrepresents the seriousness of the
dog fighting venture that is the subject of this case and
would fail to provide a sufficient and just punishment for
Thompson or a sufficient deterrent for this defendant or
others to refrain from dog fighting in the future. Thompson
fits in to the heartland of Application Note 2 to U.S.S.G.
§ 2E3.2, which notes that an upward departure may be
warranted where a defendant exhibits extraordinary cruelty or
involves a large number of animals. An above-Guidelines range
sentence would better reflect the nature of this particular
offense, which involved dogs being kept in deplorable
conditions as well as a large number of dogs being kept for
fighting, and would better account for the nature and
characteristics of Thompson, who by his own admission was
involved in dog fighting purely for the money. The Court has
further taken into account Thompson's statements at
sentencing, during which he expressed remorse for his
the Court finds that an eighteen-month increase from the top
of Thompson's Guidelines range is sufficient but not
greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing.
Such a sentence is further proportional and would avoid
disparity with the sentences of Thompson's co-defendants.
Accordingly, Thompson is sentenced to a total term of
forty-eight months' imprisonment. The remaining
provisions of the Court's judgment as announced at
sentencing remain unchanged.
 The factors set forth in §
(1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and
the history and characteristics of the ...