United States v. Hunt

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 09-01-2011
  • Case #: 09-30334
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Paez for the Court; Circuit Judges Beezer; Dissent by Circuit Judge 0’Scannlain
  • Full Text Opinion

To sustain an increased penalty beyond the statutory maximum for intent to distribute cocaine, either the defendant must admit his or her intent to possess cocaine or the government must prove the intent to possess cocaine to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Stacy Hunt (“Hunt”) pled guilty to attempting to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 846 and was sentenced to 180 months. On appeal, Hunt argues that the district court erred in sentencing him for attempted possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of cocaine because he never admitted the controlled substance was cocaine. He alleges error under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000). Under Apprendi, a fact not conceded by a defendant that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. After review of Hunt’s plea hearing, the Ninth Circuit determined that Hunt did not admit his intent to possess an unspecified amount of cocaine. Hunt denied knowledge of the content of the package holding the cocaine. The Ninth Circuit held that because Hunt did not admit that he attempted to possess cocaine, and because the government did not prove the fact beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury, the sentence violated Apprendi. The Court further held that the error was not harmless because Hunt contested the fact that he intended to possess cocaine and the evidence of his intent to possess was “far from overwhelming.” VACATED and REMANDED.

Advanced Search