US v. Burgess: Burgess was convicted of conspiring to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base. The Government filed an 851 information to enhanced the mandatory minimum based on Burgess's prior South Carolina conviction for possession of cocaine. For that conviction, a misdemeanor under state law, Burgess received a one-year sentence. The statutory maximum for the offense, however, was two years. Burgess objected, arguing that the definition of "felony drug offense" in 21 USC 802(44), which ties the definition to sentence length regardless of state law classification, must be read in common with the definition of "felony" in 21 USC 802(13), which ties the definition to state law. The district court rejected Burgess's argument and sentenced him to 156 months in prison (following a downward departure for substantial assistance).
Burgess's counsel filed an Anders brief, but the court nonetheless took the case for oral argument. The court upheld Burgess's sentence and rejected his argument regarding the meaning of "felony drug offense." The definition of that term in section 802(44) is unambiguous and has nothing to do with the general definition of "felony" in section 802(13). The court did note that, after Burgess's sentencing, two other Circuits had split on the issue, the First Circuit (US v. Roberson, 459 F.3d 39 [1st Cir. 2006] - adopting Fourth Circuit position) and DC Circuit (US v. West, 393 F.3d 1302 [DC Cir. 2005] - adopting Burgess's argument and applying Rule of Lenity).