Friday, November 14th, 2008

False Promise

United States v. Buie, 07-0258-cr (2d Cir. November 13, 2008) (McLaughlin, Leval, Pooler, CJJ)

For a drug conviction to be an ACCA predicate, it must be of an offense “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). David Buie pled guilty to a drug offense in New Jersey that carried a ten-year statutory maximum, but at his plea hearing the judge promised that he would not sentence Buie to more than eight years: “The [eight-year] plea bargain is the maximum. I could go under. I can’t go over.” The court of appeals rejected Buie’s argument that this promise took the conviction out of ACCA, noting that “Supreme Court precedent … requires that we look to the definition of the offense established by the state legislature.” Moreover, this is not the type of situation where a court looks “beyond the statutory definition and fact of conviction in order to determine whether a prior offense qualifies as a predicate for ACCA purposes.” There is no exception to the “categorical approach for a case, such as this, in which the defendant pleaded guilty to an offense carrying maximum term of imprisonment [of ten years] under a plea bargain restricting the punishment to a term shorter than that specified in the statute.”

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