July 18, 2019

Tenth Circuit: ACCA Residual Clause Unconstitutional; Case Remanded for Resentencing

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Snyder on Monday, July 20, 2015.

John Henry Snyder, II, was driving erratically when an Oklahoma City police officer pulled him over. Upon approaching Snyder’s vehicle, the officer smelled the odor of burnt marijuana. Snyder produced a driver’s license and expired insurance verification and the officer decided to search the vehicle based on the burnt marijuana smell. The officer asked Snyder to exit the vehicle, at which point he attempted to flee and yelled to his passenger to “go with it or leave with it.” Additional officers arrived on scene and searched the vehicle. They found a gun under the driver’s seat, which Snyder admitted was his. Because of his three prior felony convictions, he received the mandatory minimum 15-year sentence required by ACCA.

On appeal, Snyder challenged the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the firearm, contending the search was illegal. The district court concluded the firearm was admissible because the search fell under the inevitable discovery doctrine—because of his lack of insurance verification and arrest, police would have impounded his vehicle and found the gun on an inventory search. The Tenth Circuit found it did not need to reach the inevitable discovery doctrine because the search was legal based on the marijuana smell alone. The Tenth Circuit noted that it has held repeatedly that marijuana smell is sufficient to establish probable cause, and again held that to be true in this case.

Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated the reasonableness of Snyder’s sentence under ACCA. Two of his convictions unquestionably fell under ACCA’s strictures since they were serious drug offenses. However, the third conviction for attempted aggravated eluding a police officer fell under ACCA’s residual clause, which the Supreme Court unequivocally held to be unconstitutional in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). The Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing consistent with Johnson.

The district court’s denial of the motion to suppress was affirmed, but the case was remanded for resentencing.

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