United States v. Gardner (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Federal Docket

June 13, 2022

Quinton Deairre Gardner pled guilty in 2019 to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Review of his criminal history revealed he had 4 prior drug convictions out of Alabama. In calculating the applicable Guidelines range, the district court applied an enhancement pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), finding that Gardner had 3 prior state convictions constituting “serious drug offenses” that subjected him to a 15-year mandatory minimum.

18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii) defines a “serious drug offense” arising under State law as one carrying a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more. At sentencing and on appeal, there was no dispute that one of his convictions predated Alabama’s adoption of presumptive sentencing guidelines and, thus, qualified as a “serious drug offense” because the governing statute imposed a maximum of not more than 10 years.

However, Gardner also had 3 subsequent convictions that carried statutory maximums while at the same time reflecting newly enacted sentencing guidelines ranges under Alabama law. None of the guidelines ranges that applied to any of those 3 convictions reached 10 years. And, notably, Alabama law required that an aggravating (or mitigating) factor be proven to the jury or admitted by a defendant for an Alabama judge to impose a sentence outside the guidelines range, which was indisputably not done in any of Gardner’s cases.

Applying a de novo standard of review, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court nonetheless properly characterized those convictions as “serious drug offenses” for purposes of applying the ACCA enhancement. It held that, even though the Alabama courts would not have been able to impose a sentence of ten years or more in any of Gardner’s cases as a result of the guidelines, the categorical approach previously adopted by the Eleventh Circuit required it to consider the maximum punishment which could have been authorized in any case for purposes of calculating the ACCA enhancement.

Appeal from the Northern District of Alabama
Opinion by Newsom, joined by Tjoflat and Hull

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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