United States v. Stewart

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 07-31-2014
  • Case #: 13-10048
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Thomas and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

For purposes of defining and sentencing career offenders, the ambiguous language of 28 U.S.C. § 994(h) includes not only prior federal drug convictions, but also prior drug convictions where the conduct could have been charged federally.

After Matthew Stewart (“Stewart”) pled guilty to two counts of distributing a controlled substance, the trial court sentenced him as a career offender due to his previous felony convictions for drug distribution. The case came to the Ninth Circuit following Stewart’s appeal of his 120 month prison sentence. Stewart argued that the Sentencing Commission exceeded 28 U.S.C. § 994(h) by determining that he was a career offender based in part on his prior state convictions, when he believed only prior federal convictions could be considered. The U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a) defines a career offender as someone who “(1) is convicted of a ‘felony that is either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense’ and (2) ‘has at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense.’” Under United States v. Rivera, 996 F.2d 993 (9th Cir. 1993), the court held that the language of § 994(h) could be interpreted to include not only prior federal drug convictions, but also prior drug convictions where the conduct could have been charged federally. Even though Stewart’s previous convictions were not charged federally, they could have been, so it was reasonable for the district court to categorize him as a career offender for purposes of sentencing. Therefore, based on the totality of the circumstances, Stewart’s sentence was reasonable. AFFIRMED.

Advanced Search