United States v. Fields (6th Cir. August 2022)

The Federal Docket

August 24, 2022

After a jury trial, Timmy Fields was convicted of possession of 500 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The district court imposed a twenty-five year mandatory-minimum sentence enhancement under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(viii) because it found that he had two prior convictions for a “serious drug felony,” and Fields appealed.

Using the categorical approach to review his prior convictions, the Sixth Circuit found that one of them was not a valid predicate, and so vacated his sentence and remanded. The term “serious drug felony” means a “serious drug offense” as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A) for which the defendant served over a year in prison and was released within fifteen years of the commencement of the instant offense. A state-law offense is a “serious drug offense” if it “involve[es] manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute, a controlled substance” and its statutory maximum sentence is ten years or more.

Since it is possible to violate the Kentucky possession of a methamphetamine precursor statute that Fields was convicted under without committing “manufacturing” conduct, that offense does not “necessarily entail” manufacturing as required by Shular (even though it requires intent to manufacture). Thus, that offense is not a “serious drug offense” and cannot be a predicate “serious drug felony” under Section 841.

Judge Murphy wrote a separate concurrence to specifically discuss the fact that Shular’s narrow interpretation of “involving” should now be followed, and the broader interpretation of the Sixth Circuit precedent in Eason must therefore be abandoned.

Judge Rogers concurred with the majority in rejecting Fields’s other claims but dissented as to its main holding that Fields’s meth-precursor conviction was not a valid predicate for an enhancement. Unlike Judge Murphy, Judge Rogers argued that Eason’s interpretation must still be followed, because the seemingly inconsistent interpretation of “involving” from Shular was only dicta and therefore did not invalidate the circuit’s existing precedent.

Appeal from the Eastern District of Kentucky

Opinion by White, joined by Murphy, and joined in part by Rogers

Concurrence by Murphy, joined in part by Rogers

Concurrence in part and dissent in part by Rogers

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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