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United States v. Mayes

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 27, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Renerto Lamar Mayes, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky at Paducah. No. 5:17-cr-00014-1-Thomas B. Russell, District Judge.

          Christian J. Grostic, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

          L. Jay Gilbert, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellee.

          Before: WHITE, BUSH, and LARSEN, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          HELENE N. WHITE, Circuit Judge.

         After a jury convicted defendant-appellant Renerto Mayes of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the district court sentenced him to 180 months' imprisonment under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) based on five previous convictions for serious drug offenses under Kentucky law. Mayes appeals, arguing that because the Kentucky legislature reduced the maximum penalty for three of his offenses from ten years to five years, the district court erred in sentencing him as an armed career criminal. We AFFIRM.

         I. Background

         Under the ACCA, a defendant who violates 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and has "three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both, committed on occasions different from one another . . . shall be . . . imprisoned not less than fifteen years." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). A serious drug offense includes "an offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance . . . for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii).

         Because at the time of sentencing each of Mayes's five previous Kentucky convictions for trafficking cocaine carried a maximum prison term of ten years, the probation office determined the offenses qualified as "serious drug offense[s]" under the ACCA, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). Mayes objected to the PSR's armed career criminal designation, asserting that the maximum ten-year sentence for his three 2006 offenses had been reduced to five years by the Kentucky legislature in 2011. As a result, Mayes argued, only two of his previous convictions qualified as serious drug offenses and the ACCA's mandatory minimum sentence did not apply.

         The district court rejected Mayes's arguments, relying on McNeill v. United States, 563 U.S. 816 (2011), which held that a court must consult the law that applied at the time of the previous conviction to determine whether that conviction qualifies as a serious drug offense within the meaning of ACCA. The district court determined that Mayes is an armed career criminal and sentenced him below the guidelines range to the fifteen-year statutory mandatory minimum term under the ACCA. Mayes now appeals.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         The court reviews de novo whether a prior conviction is a "serious drug offense" under the ACCA. United States v. Stafford, 721 F.3d 380, 395-96 (6th Cir. 2013).

         To determine whether a particular offense qualifies as a serious drug offense, the court applies a "categorical approach," which looks "only to the statutory definitions-i.e., the elements-of a defendant's prior offenses, and not to the particular facts underlying those convictions." Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 261 (2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Further, the inquiry turns on the elements of the offense, and not the label state law places on it. Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 588-89 (1990) ("Congress intended that the enhancement provision [of the ACCA] be triggered by crimes having certain ...


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