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Supreme Court rules on ‘serious drug offense’ in sentencing statute
© WikiMedia (Kjetil Ree)
Supreme Court rules on ‘serious drug offense’ in sentencing statute

The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in Shular v. United States that “serious drug offense” requires only that the state offense involve the conduct specified in the statute; it does not require that the state offense match certain generic offenses.

Ordinarily, a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm faces a maximum sentence of 10 years. However, the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) mandates a 15-year minimum sentence if the offender’s prior criminal record includes at least three convictions for “serious drug offenses.”

Eddie Lee Shular pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a 15-year sentence because he had six prior cocaine-related convictions under Florida law. Shular argued that his sentence should not be subject to ACCA enhancement because his prior convictions under state law do not make knowledge of the substance’s illegality an element of the offense definition. Shular maintained that the state offenses do not match the generic offenses in ACCA.

The Supreme Court rejected the generic approach and instead adopted a categorical approach, holding that the statutory text and context show that the statute refers to conduct, not offenses.