August 20, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Attempts to Commit Drug Crimes Are Controlled Substance Offenses for Determining Career Offender Status

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Chavez on Tuesday, October 18, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conviction and sentence. Petitioner was arrested during a traffic stop for driving while intoxicated. Following his arrest, the police obtained a warrant to search his impounded vehicle for illegal contraband, during which officers found approximately one-third of a pound of cocaine. During his trial, Petitioner filed a motion to suppress the cocaine, arguing it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion and Petitioner entered a conditional guilty plea. During his sentencing hearing, the district court concluded that Petitioner qualified as a “career offender ” based on a prior conviction for attempted drug trafficking. Petitioner claims that attempted crimes do not qualify as predicate offenses for determining career offender status. The district court rejected this argument.

The Court also rejected all of Petitioner’s contentions. The Court concluded that the traffic stop was constitutionally sound under the Fourth Amendment and there “was ample probable cause to arrest [Petitioner], a conclusion that also resolves his detention and consent to search issues.” Therefore, the district court appropriately denied his motion to suppress the evidence. Next, the Court concluded that the Sentencing Commission “acted within this broad grant of authority in construing attempts to commit drug crimes as controlled substance offenses for purposes of determining career offender status. Because the commentary interprets controlled substance offenses as including convictions for attempted drug trafficking, and because the commentary is authoritative, the district court properly determined that [Petitioner] should be classified as a career offender.” The Court therefore affirmed Petitioner’s sentence.

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