Jankie Jackson and Peters Combs pleaded guilty to participating in a cocaine distribution ring. The district court enhanced their sentences: finding Jackson was a leader of the drug distribution conspiracy and holding Combs was a career offender. Each appealed their sentence, although Jackson took a more difficult route by initiating his appeal, pro se, approximately six months after the district court entered its judgment.
On appeal, Combs argued that he was not a career offender because his previous federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and his Kentucky conviction for second degree trafficking in a controlled substance did not qualify as "controlled substance offense[s]" under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, he argued that second degree trafficking in a controlled substance under Kentucky law was broader than the generic definition of a controlled substance offense under the Guidelines because that definition did not encompass the act of transferring a narcotic. In addition, Combs argued that, unlike the Kentucky predicate crime, the generic Guidelines definition of a controlled substance also did not include the distribution of a narcotic without commercial intent.
The Court disagreed, in part. Utilizing the categorical approach and examining the language of the Controlled Substances Act, the Court held that the term "distribute" under the CSA included the "transfer" of a narcotic, meaning that the generic definition of a "controlled substance" included the transfer of the same. The Court also rejected Combs's argument that the Court's decision in United States v. Havis foreclosed reliance upon the CSA's definition of the relevant terms, holding that the CSA, unlike the Guidelines commentary in Havis, did not broaden the text of the Guidelines and because Congress, not the United States Sentencing Commission, enacted the CSA.
Combs fared no better in arguing that the lack of commercial intent in the Kentucky predicate offense made it broader than the generic definition. Citing previous decisions, the Court noted it had previously held that sharing a controlled substance without compensation satisfied the substantive offense under the CSA -- possession with intent to distribute.
The Court also rejected Combs's argument that the Kentucky definition of transfer was too broad because it encompassed the innocent disposal of a controlled substance. Not so, said the Court. Noting that the Kentucky statute only punished those who "knowingly and unlawfully" disposed of controlled substances, it was unlikely to encompass someone who innocently threw away such substances.
Fortunately for for Combs, however, his previous conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance did not qualify as a predicate offense. Citing its recent decision in United States v. Cordero which held that, in light of Havis, a conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance was not a "controlled substance offense" under § 4B1.2(b), it remanded his case for resentencing.
With respect Jackson's appeal, the Court had to sift through a unique set of procedural issues. In particular, Jackson submitted two letters to the district court: one that the district court construed as a motion for leave to appeal and one as a notice of appeal. The Government opposed Jackson's appeal and then withdrew its opposition. Before proceeding with Jackson's appeal, the Court had to consider whether the Government could withdraw its opposition. In this "limited instance," the Court held it could.
Considering the merits of Jackson's appeal, the Court held he procedurally waived his challenge to the four-level leader enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a) because he did not object to the enhancement during his sentencing. Even if he had not waived his objection, however, the Court concluded the district court correctly applied the enhancement since there was evidence Jackson recruited and supervised the participants in a large drug conspiracy and held a substantial amount of the cash proceeds.
The Court held Jackson similarly waived his challenge to the 20-year mandatory minimum he received pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) because he had a prior conviction for trafficking in marijuana. Regardless of the waiver, the Court concluded that his prior conviction was a qualifying felony under the statute.
You can find the opinion here.