Monday, December 23, 2019

Maryland robbery is ACCA Predicate; Possession With Intent Is “Controlled Substance Offense”

US v. Johnson: Johnson was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing, the Government argued that he qualified for a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act because of a prior conviction in Maryland for robbery. The district court disagreed. It also disagreed with the Government that Johnson’s prior conviction (also in Maryland) for possession with intent to distribute was a “controlled substance offense” under the Sentencing Guidelines. Johnson was sentenced to 51 months in prison, the bottom of the advisory Guideline range calculated by the district court.

The Fourth Circuit vacated the sentence, finding that the district court had erred with regard to both conclusions. As to the robbery conviction, the court noted that Maryland robbery can be committed by either the threat of violence or the actual use of violence in the taking of property from another. The court concluded that both of those versions of the offense met the “violent force” requirement of ACCA. The threat of violence, under state law, requires a threat of bodily harm, which is sufficient to meet the standard. Using actual force requires enough to overcome the will of the victim, but has to be more than the force necessary to take the property. That, too, met the ACCA standard, according to the court. As to the possession with intent conviction, the court rejected Johnson’s argument that under Maryland law the offense could be committed by merely offering drugs to another person, without any intent to distribute, finding that position unsupported in Maryland statutory and case law.

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