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United States v. Rayyan

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 19, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Khalil Abu Rayyan, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: March 15, 2018

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:16-cr-20098-1-George Caram Steeh, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Jessica LeFort, FEDERAL DEFENDER OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Andrew Goetz, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jessica LeFort, Todd Shanker, FEDERAL DEFENDER OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Andrew Goetz, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before: MERRITT and SUTTON, Circuit Judges; CLELAND, District Judge. [*]

          OPINION

          SUTTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Khalil Abu Rayyan pleaded guilty to federal gun charges. The Sentencing Guidelines recommended a sentence between 15 and 21 months. The government asked for a sentence of 96 months on the ground (among others) that Rayyan at one point had planned to attack a local church. After a three-day hearing, the district court imposed a sentence of 60 months, all explained in a 33-page opinion. Although Rayyan's challenge to that sentence raises not-inconsequential considerations-a substantial upward variance based in part on uncharged conduct and a defendant's online viewing habits and online communications-Judge Steeh's careful handling of this case does not exceed the discretion that sentencing law delegates to the district courts. We affirm.

         I.

         Rayyan had an affinity for the Islamic State (sometimes known as ISIS or ISIL) and showed it by watching online content that glorified its exploits. He watched one video entitled "Kill them wherever you find them" five times, and he called it "the best one yet." R. 107-2 at 2-3. He featured a photo depicting a jihad-inspired execution on his Twitter account. And he requested links to videos depicting Islamic State fighters throwing prisoners from the tops of buildings. Watching them "made [his] day." R. 107-1 at 3.

         Over time, his apparent sympathy for Islamic State propaganda ran the risk of inspiring real-world action. On one occasion, Rayyan posted a photo online showing him brandishing a pistol in one hand ...


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