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United States v. Williams.

No. 21-6061. 9/8/2022. W.D.Okla. Judge Rossman. Procedural Unreasonableness Challenge to Sentence—Sentencing Guidelines—Armed Career Criminal Act Enhancement.

September 8, 2022

In May 2020, the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) identified a suspicious package that was delivered from San Bernadino, California, to 104 SE 39th Street in Oklahoma City (39th Street address). Investigators saw defendant pick up the package at the 39th Street address, go back inside the home, and then leave about 40 minutes later. In June 2020, investigators intercepted another suspicious package sent from San Bernadino to the 39th Street address, and a drug dog indicated it contained narcotics. After obtaining a search warrant, investigators opened the package and found suspected methamphetamine. Investigators repackaged the contents and delivered the package to the 39th Street address. Law enforcement again saw defendant take the package into the house and leave shortly thereafter. Officers apprehended defendant and searched the 39th Street address, which was defendant’s brother’s home. They found drug paraphernalia, a loaded firearm, and the package, along with the empty package from May 2020. Subsequent testing showed the June 2020 package contained about 1,222 grams of methamphetamine.

A grand jury indicted defendant on three counts: (1) possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, (2) maintaining a drug-involved premises, and (3) felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant pleaded guilty to counts one and three. According to the presentence report (PSR), investigators reviewed USPS records and concluded that seven parcels (in addition to the June 2020 package) were delivered from California to the 39th Street address between January and June 2020. Additionally, three similar parcels were mailed to defendant’s residence between April and May 2020.

The PSR was based on the actual amount of methamphetamine discovered in the June 2020 package and an estimated amount from the three packages delivered to defendant’s residence. The PSR disclaimed any reliance on the seven other packages mailed to the 39th Street address. The total converted drug weight set the base offense level at 36 under the Sentencing Guidelines; the total offense level was 40 after applying two enhancements. The PSR then considered three convictions from 1996, 1997, and 2003 as “serious drug offenses” and noted an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

Before sentencing, defendant objected to the PSR’s drug quantity calculation based on the three packages sent to his residence. He also objected to the ACCA determination, arguing his Oklahoma state offenses related to hemp were overbroad because hemp is not a federally controlled substance. At the sentencing hearing, the district court first confirmed that the PSR did not seek to hold defendant accountable for the other packages sent to the 39th Street address. Despite this confirmation, the government did not present any evidence about the three packages delivered to defendant’s residence. Instead, it introduced evidence about the other seven packages delivered to the 39th Street address. The district court found the evidence supported the PSR’s drug quantity calculation and decided the base offense level was 36. The district court declined to address defendant’s ACCA objection and imposed a concurrent 284-month sentence on each count.

Defendant appealed the sentence on two grounds: (1) the district court erred in calculating drug quantity from the three packages sent to defendant’s house, and (2) the district court imposed an illegal sentence by applying the ACCA.

The Tenth Circuit first determined that the district court committed clear error because its drug-quantity finding relied at least in part on the three packages about which the government presented no evidence. The district court made no specific drug-quantity findings based on the evidence the government actually presented. The Tenth Circuit rejected the government’s contention that the error was harmless.

Next, as a matter of first impression in the Tenth Circuit, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court erred in enhancing defendant’s sentence under the ACCA. The prior state offenses were categorically broader than the definition of “serious drug offense” because they apply to hemp, which was not federally controlled at the time of the underlying offense. Consistent with six of the seven circuit courts that have considered the issue, the Tenth Circuit held that a court must use the current federal definition of a controlled substance—not the one effective at the time of the prior state offenses—to determine whether a prior drug offense is categorically overbroad because it is not limited to federally controlled substances.

Without the ACCA enhancement, the statutory maximum term of imprisonment was 10 years. The 284-month sentence was therefore an illegal sentence. Because the Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing on the drug-quantity issue, it declined to invoke the concurrent sentence doctrine as urged by the government.

The judgment was vacated, and the matter was remanded to the district court for further drug-quantity findings and resentencing without the ACCA enhancement.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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