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Name: U.S. v. Diaz
Case #: 10-50029
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 04/20/2016

Reduction of prior felony drug conviction to misdemeanor pursuant to Proposition 47 has no effect on federal sentence enhancement (21 U.S.C. § 841) that had previously been imposed based on that felony. In this multi-defendant case, Vasquez was convicted of federal drug offenses for his part in his gang’s trafficking operations. In 2010, he received a life sentence under section 841, which mandates a life sentence if a defendant committed his federal crime after having been convicted of two or more felony drug offenses. Vasquez had prior California convictions for drug offenses that qualified. While his direct appeal in his federal case was pending, California voters enacted Proposition 47 and Vasquez sought to reduce one of his California felony priors (drug possession under Health & Saf. Code, § 11350, subd. (a)) to a misdemeanor. His Proposition 47 petition was granted and the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor. In a supplemental brief in his federal appeal, Vasquez argued that the section 841 sentence enhancement should be invalidated because he no longer had the two requisite felonies to support it. Held: Affirmed. Whether a prior qualifies as a predicate offense for an enhancement under section 841 is determined as of the date a defendant is convicted of the federal offense. The court’s “general rule is that when a state grants post-conviction relief to a defendant with respect to his state felony conviction, we do not apply those changes retroactively to invalidate federal sentence enhancements.” Here, the court concluded that there was no reason to depart from the general rule in this case. Because Vasquez was convicted of his federal crime when his state drug offense was still a felony, the postconviction reduction of Vasquez’s felony to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 did not undermine the validity of his federal sentence.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: