United States v. Jerome Stancil (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Federal Docket

July 14, 2021

Firearm Offenses/ACCA – Defendant’s prior convictions under a Virginia law that allowed convictions for distributing drugs based on a person’s sharing or giving drugs to another were prior convictions for a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA.

Fourth Amendment – Magistrate Judge did not improperly credit officers’ testimony at suppression hearing where the inconsistencies were not material.

Jerome Stancil was convicted for possessing a firearm as a felon, and based on his three prior state-law drug convictions, he was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 15 years under the Armed Career Criminal Act. He raised two challenges, arguing that 1) his prior conviction under Virginia law was not a predicate offense under the ACCA because the least culpable conduct under the Virginia statute criminalized merely “sharing” drugs, and 2) his firearm was discovered during an illegal search and traffic stop.

Regarding his prior convictions, the Eleventh Circuit applied the categorical approach and held that Stancil’s prior conviction for distributing drugs under Virginia law was a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA, reasoning that “distributing” controlled substances does not require “an exchange for value.” Therefore, the fact that Virginia law allowed a conviction for merely giving someone drugs was not an obstacle to the ACCA enhancement. The Court cited prior panel opinions holding that Alabama convictions for “giving away” drugs and possessing drugs “for other than personal use” were convictions for a “serious drug offense” under the ACCA.

The Court also rejected Stancil’s suppression argument that the district court improperly credited the officers’ testimony at his suppression hearing. Stancil emphasized that the officers’ testimony was inconsistent regarding their positions relative to his vehicle during the traffic stop, their testimony regarding green leaves on the floorboard was not on the incident report (officers searched Stancil’s car after claiming they smelled marijuana), and he argued that the magistrate deferred to the officers based on their status as police officers.

The Court held there was no clear error in the magistrate crediting the officers’ testimony notwithstanding the alleged inconsistencies. The Court also rejected the notion that the magistrate judge had credited the officers’ testimony based on their status.

On appeal from the Middle District of Florida
Opinion by Grant, joined by Branch and Tjoflat

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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