Wednesday, July 01, 2015

United States v. Jefferson, No. 13-50647 (Wardlaw with Kozinski; concurrence by Fletcher) --- The Ninth Circuit affirmed a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for importation of methamphetamine, holding that neither Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), nor Flores-Figueroa v. United States, 556 U.S. 646 (2009), undermined prior circuit precedent that the type and quantity of the controlled substance imported are not elements of the crime set forth in 21 U.S.C. ยงยง 952(a) and 960(b).

The defendant pleaded guilty to importation of 4.65 kilograms of methamphetamine, but asserted that he thought he was importing marijuana instead of meth.  This didn't matter -- under United States v. Carranza, 289 F.3d 634 (9th Cir. 2002), the defendant need only know that he was importing some controlled substance, and was subject to the applicable mandatory minimum if it turned out that the controlled substance in question was of the proper type and of the minimum quantity.  Because here the defendant admitted that he knew that he was importing a controlled substance, the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence applied after the judge found that controlled substance to be more than 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine.

The court also commented that the requirements of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), which applies to mandatory minimums under Alleyne, are waived when the defendant pleads guilty.  The court rejected the related argument that the defendant did not receive adequate notice of a possible 10-year mandatory minimum, because he raised that argument for the first time in his reply brief.

Concurring, Judge Fletcher agreed that Carranza compelled the result in the case, but argued that Carranza should be overruled in light of Alleyne and Flores-Figueroa.  A defendant's reasonable belief that he was trafficking in marijuana instead of methamphetamine should be enough to allow him to escape the mandatory minimum.  The knowledge requirement should apply to the type and quantity of drugs because of the harshness of the mandatory minimum and under the rule of lenity. 

Kara Hartzler of the Federal Defenders of San Diego fought valiantly in this appeal.  Hopefully this is just a start to reconsideration.

The decision is here:



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