Shular v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, February 2020)

ACCA/Sentencing – A defendant’s prior state law conviction constitutes a “serious drug offense” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii) if the defendant’s offense involved the conduct described in the statute.

The Court considered how courts should determine whether a defendant’s prior state law conviction is a “serious drug offense” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, which triggers mandatory minimum sentences based on a defendant’s prior convictions. Under § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii), a state law offense is a “serious drug offense” if it involves “manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance.”

The justices unanimously held that a court need only look to the conduct involved in the defendant’s prior conviction and determine whether it constitutes “manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute” under § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). The Court explicitly rejected employing a similar categorical approach to drug convictions as they applied to “violent felonies” under the ACCA, which involves qualifying a defendant’s prior offense  by comparing it to a “generic offense.”

On certiorari to the Eleventh Circuit

Opinion by Ginsburg

Click here to read the Opinion.


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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