Eleventh Circuit Says Florida Drug Conviction No Good for Federal ACCA Sentence

United States v. Miles, No. 21-12609, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 19662 (11th Cir. July 31, 2023)

In a case of first impression, the U.S. Court of Apeals for the Eleventh Circuit held on July 31, 2023, that a conviction for possessing an ingredient to manufacture methamphetamine was not a valid prior conviction for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. Here’s how it came about.

Christopher Miles was convicted in a Florida State court in 2013 for possessing a chemical (Sudafed) used to manufacture methamphetamine. The conviction stemmed from a plea deal that let Miles avoid an arson conviction. Turns out, the Sudafed wasn’t the only thing he had that could produce meth; he also had chemicals that ignited and lit him on fire. During his panic about being on fire, he spread the fire throughout a house in rural North Florida and it promptly burned to the ground.

A decade later, cops were called to investigate a woman who said Miles had threatened her with a gun. Since he was a convicted felon, he was charged federally with being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Typically, this offense has a 10-year statutory maximum sentence. But because Miles had three qualifying prior convictions, according to the federal probation officer preparing the presentence report, he faced a minimum of 15 years up to life. The court handed him 15 years under the ACCA.

On direct appeal, Miles challenged that the prior possession of Sudafed conviction wasn’t a valid “serious drug offense” under the ACCA. A qualifying prior conviction, the Supreme Court has said, “requires only that the state offense involve the conduct specified in the federal statute.” The federal statute here requires conduct involving the manufacture of drugs, and the district court assumed possessing ingredients to make drugs fit that bill. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed and said:

“We have held that an offense is a ‘serious drug offense’ under Section 924(e)(2)(A)(ii) [the ACCA] if it proscribes one of the kinds of conduct listed in that section, i.e., ‘manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute.’ United States v. Penn, 63 F.4th 1305, 1316 (11th Cir. 2023). But possessing a listed chemical with reasonable cause to believe it will be used to manufacture [drugs] is not itself ‘manufacturing.’ Likewise, this offense does not ‘involve manufacturing’ as we have previously defined that term. An offense involves manufacturing if it necessarily entails the conduct of manufacturing, but the elements of the crime of unlawful possession of a listed chemical [to manufacture drugs] do not ‘necessarily entail’ the conduct of manufacturing. Possessing one ingredient to make a controlled substance with reasonable cause to believe that some person will use it to manufacture a controlled substance is too far removed from the conduct of manufacturing itself to satisfy the ‘necessarily entails’ standard.

We hold that a conviction under Florida Statutes § 893.149(1) for possessing a listed chemical with reasonable cause to believe it will be used to manufacture a controlled substance is not a ‘serious drug offense’ under ACCA. Accordingly, we vacate Miles’s sentence and remand this case for resentencing.”

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