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August 22, 2005

Important 2d Circuit ruling on drug quantities

Thanks to a helpful reader, I just learned that the Second Circuit today issued an important ruling about the treatment of drug quantities in the application of § 841, the chief federal drug statute. Here is the court's helpful summary of its holding in US v. Gonzales, No. 03-1356 (2d Cir. Aug. 22, 2005) (available here):

To summarize, we conclude:

(1) The drug quantities specified in 21 U.S.C. § 841 are elements that must be pleaded and proved to a jury or admitted by a defendant to support any conviction on an aggravated drug offense, not simply those resulting in sentences that exceed the maximum otherwise applicable for an identical unquantified drug crime.

(2) The sentencing ranges prescribed in § 841 for aggravated drug offenses may not be deconstructed so that quantity operates as an element for purposes of determining an applicable maximum but as a sentencing factor for purposes of determining an applicable minimum. Thus, where a drug quantity specified in § 841(b)(1)(A) or -(b)(1)(B) is neither proved to a jury nor admitted by a defendant, a district court is not required to impose the minimum sentence mandated by those sections even if it may impose that same sentence pursuant 42 to § 841(b)(1)(C).

(3) Because the defendant in this case was misinformed as to his right to have the charged statutory drug quantity proved to a jury and because he did not admit quantity at his plea allocution, his guilty plea to an aggravated § 841(b)(1)(A) offense was not knowing, voluntary, or sufficient to support the judgment of conviction. The circumstances of this case do not show that Gonzalez would have pleaded guilty to the offense had he been properly advised; thus, the error was not harmless. Further, because the government was unwilling to accept defendant’s plea to an unquantified drug offense in satisfaction of the charge, the defendant should have been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

August 22, 2005 at 05:52 PM | Permalink

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