Federal appeals court affirms sentencing enhancement in drug possession case
© WikiMedia (Michael Coghlan)
Federal appeals court affirms sentencing enhancement in drug possession case

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on Monday affirmed a district court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to strike the government’s notice of sentencing enhancement.

In 2008 the defendant, Joe Santillan, received a felony convicted for possession of marijuana for sale. In 2016 Californians voted to reclassify possession of marijuana for sale as a misdemeanor. In November 2017 a grand jury indicted him on four counts, including one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Due to prior conviction for felony possession of marijuana, the 2017 indictment included a notice of sentencing enhancement, as required under 21 USC § 851. After his arrest but before his indictment the defendant petitioned the California government to reclassify his prior conviction as a misdemeanor. California granted the defendant’s petition in December 2017. When the defendant attempted to have the sentencing enhancement struck, the district court denied the motion.

On appeal the defendant argued that the reclassification of his felony to a misdemeanor prevents it from being the basis of sentencing enhancement under 21 USC § 841. The Eighth Circuit rejected this argument, stating that § 841 is backward looking, and the defendant’s prior felony conviction is a “historical fact.” Its status as a “historical fact” makes it a “final” conviction for the purposes of sentencing enhancement. For those reasons, the Eighth Circuit denied the appeal.