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United States v. Eason

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 22, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Charles Eason, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued: January 30, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 2:17-cr-20218-1-Sheryl H. Lipman, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Kevin G. Ritz, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Unam Peter Oh, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Kevin G. Ritz, Bryce Phillips, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Unam Peter Oh, FEDERAL PUBLIC

          DEFENDER, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: SILER, COOK, and BUSH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SILER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

          The United States appeals a 46-month sentence imposed on Charles Eason by the Western District of Tennessee following his guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The United States argues the district court erred in finding that Eason was not an armed career criminal, given his five prior Tennessee convictions for promotion of methamphetamine manufacture. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-433. Since these convictions are serious drug offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), we REVERSE Eason's sentence and REMAND for resentencing.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2017, Eason pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The default statutory range for such a violation is zero to 10 years' imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). However, under the ACCA, a defendant convicted under § 922(g) who has three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses is subject to an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence of 180 months. 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).

         The Pre-Sentence Report recommended that Eason be sentenced under the ACCA due to his five prior Tennessee felony convictions for promotion of methamphetamine manufacture. Eason objected. He pointed out that an ACCA "serious drug offense" is defined, in relevant part, as "an offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). Eason argued that, under the Tennessee statute, his prior offenses could have been based on no more than the purchase of an ingredient that can be used to produce methamphetamine with reckless disregard of its intended use. This, he argued, was too attenuated from the manufacture of methamphetamine to involve it for ACCA purposes.

         The government countered, and continues to argue, that the Tennessee statute "involves" the manufacture of methamphetamine because it targets those who gather the necessary ingredients. And under the ACCA's definition of serious drug offense, there is no explicit mens rea requirement for the underlying state crimes-rather, the ACCA requires only that the predicate offenses involve certain activities related to controlled substances.

         The district court agreed with Eason. It explained that, while "involving" is an expansive term under the ACCA, purchasing an ingredient with reckless disregard of its intended use does not relate or connect closely enough with manufacturing so as to involve it. Without the ACCA enhancement, ...


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