United States v. Medina-Campo, No. 12-4402

Decided:  April 18, 2013

The Fourth Circuit held that the United States District Court for the District of Maryland properly applied a sixteen-level sentencing enhancement to Trino Medina-Campo’s prison term, as his felony conviction under an Oregon statute proscribing unlawful delivery of a controlled substance qualified as a “drug trafficking offense” warranting such enhancement.

After he was deported to Mexico in 2005, Medina-Campo returned to the United States.  On April 1, 2011, he was arrested for driving under the influence.  Medina-Campo subsequently pled guilty to a charge of illegal entry after deportation, and the district court sentenced him to fifty months in prison.  Section 2L1.2 of the federal Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”), titled “Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the United States,” provides for a sixteen-level sentencing enhancement if the defendant reentered the United States unlawfully after a felony conviction for “a drug trafficking offense for which the sentence imposed exceeded 13 months.”  In 2001, Medina-Campo pled guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance in Oregon, after which he was sentenced to a twenty-four month prison term.  The district court therefore applied the sixteen-level sentencing enhancement to Medina-Campo’s offense level.  Medina-Campo appealed, arguing that his Oregon felony conviction did not constitute a “drug trafficking offense.”

On appeal, Medina-Campo argued that the Oregon felony of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance did not, categorically speaking, constitute a “drug trafficking offense” for purposes of sentence enhancements for prior convictions.  Medina-Campo asserted that the relevant statute penalized solicitation, attempted delivery, and actual delivery of controlled substances; that solicitation is a separate crime from attempted delivery or actual delivery; and that, because the statute covered separate crimes, the court had to apply the modified categorical approach to the review of his prior conviction.  Medina-Campo maintained that the documents relevant under this approach—i.e., the indictment and the petition and order evincing his guilty plea—lacked details necessary for the court to determine whether he committed solicitation, attempted delivery, or actual delivery.  Medina-Campo then noted that, though an Application Note to § 2L1.2 noted that the statute “includes[s] aiding and abetting, conspiring . . . and attempting . . . to commit [a drug trafficking offense],” it did not mention solicitation; furthermore, though the term “include” indicates a non-exhaustive list, the crime of solicitation was insufficiently similar to the enumerated offenses to be covered by the Application Note.  Thus, according to Medina-Campo, solicitation cannot be considered a “drug trafficking offense” under § 2L1.2, rendering the documents related to his conviction too indeterminate for a sentence enhancement.

The Fourth Circuit rejected Medina-Campo’s arguments, stating that solicitation, aiding and abetting, conspiracy, and attempt are “simply different ways to commit the broad, unitary offense of drug trafficking described in the Guidelines.”  The court therefore applied the categorical approach to the Oregon statute, concluding that unlawful delivery of a controlled substance constitutes a drug trafficking offense—even if the defendant merely committed solicitation.

Full Opinion

– Stephen Sutherland

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