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United States v. Faulkner

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
JARED ROBERT FAULKNER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 6:18-CR-00052-RAW-1)

          Barry L. Derryberry, Assistant Federal Public Defender (Julia L. O'Connell, Federal Public Defender, and Robert S. Williams, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with him on the briefs), Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Defendant - Appellant.

          Linda A. Epperley, Assistant United States Attorney (Brian J. Kuester, United States Attorney, and Gregory Dean Burris, Assistant United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Muskogee, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff - Appellee.

          Before HOLMES, MATHESON, and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

          McHUGH, Circuit Judge.

         Following his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Jared Faulkner failed to object to the Presentence Investigation Report's ("PSR") conclusion that his prior Oklahoma felony of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine qualified as a predicate "controlled substance offense" for purposes of base offense level computation. As a result, the district court adopted the PSR in full and sentenced Mr. Faulkner to a guidelines-range, 96-month term of imprisonment.[1]

         On appeal, Mr. Faulkner asserts the district court plainly erred by finding that his prior conviction qualified as a "controlled substance offense" as that term is defined by the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G." or "Guidelines").

         Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a)(2), we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the conclusion of a two-day trial, a jury convicted Mr. Faulkner on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Mr. Faulkner's PSR calculated his base offense level as 20, counting his prior Oklahoma conviction for endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine as a "controlled substance offense." ROA, vol. III, at 3.[2] The PSR applied an additional two-level enhancement because the subject firearm had been reported stolen. Combining his total offense level of 22 with his criminal history category of VI yielded an advisory sentencing range of 84-105 months. The district court adopted the PSR in full without objection and sentenced Mr. Faulkner to a term of 96 months' imprisonment.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b), "[a] plain error that affects substantial rights may be considered even though it was not brought to the court's attention." Because Mr. Faulkner raised no objection in the district court, he can prevail on appeal "only if (1) an error occurred; (2) the error was plain; (3) the error affected [his] substantial rights; and (4) the error seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of a judicial proceeding." United States v. Jereb, 882 F.3d 1325, 1335 (10th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks omitted). At oral argument, the government conceded that prongs three and four would be met if Mr. Faulkner could establish the first two prongs.[3] Thus, we analyze only whether the district court committed error that was plain.

         A. Whether the District Court Erred

         Prior to his current offense, Mr. Faulkner was convicted in Oklahoma state court of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine in violation of Okla. Stat. tit 63, § 2-408. Under that statute, "[a]ny person who offers, solicits, attempts, endeavors, or conspires to commit any offense defined in the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act . . . shall be subject to the penalty prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the offer, solicitation, attempt, endeavor or conspiracy." Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-408.

         Section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) of the Guidelines directs a sentencing court to apply a base offense level of 20 if "the defendant committed any part of the instant offense subsequent to sustaining one felony conviction of . . . a controlled substance offense." The Guidelines define "controlled substance offense" as "an offense under federal or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, that prohibits the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance . . . or the possession of a controlled substance . . . with intent to manufacture, import, export, distribute, or dispense." U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b).[4]

         Application Note 1 to § 4B1.2 clarifies that "'controlled substance offense' include[s] the offenses of aiding and abetting, conspiring, and attempting to commit such offenses." § 4B1.2 cmt. n.1. And Application Note 2 to the Guidelines' general application principles instructs that the Guidelines' use of "[t]he term 'includes' is not exhaustive." U.S.S.G. § 1B1.1 cmt. n.2. Relying on this principle, we have held that "solicitation" is a crime of violence under § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii) notwithstanding the absence of that term in an application note to § 2L1.2, a provision that is indistinguishable from Note 1 to § 4B1.2. See United States v. Cornelio-Pena, 435 F.3d 1279, 1284 (10th Cir. 2006) ("Thus, by using the term 'include' in the application note, the Commission clearly expressed its intent that the offenses listed in the note were not exhaustive, and we do not apply expressio unius est exclusio alterius."); see also United States v. Shumate, 329 F.3d 1026, 1030 (9th Cir. 2003) (applying the same analysis to conclude that solicitation offenses are included in § 4B1.2). Thus, a state offense is not removed from the ambit of the Guidelines' definition of "controlled substance offense" merely because it does not appear among the enumerated offenses.

         Rather, "[w]e apply a categorical/modified categorical analysis to determine whether [a defendant's] prior . . . conviction qualifies as a 'controlled substance offense' under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b)." United States v. McKibbon, 878 F.3d 967, 971 (10th Cir. 2017). Under the categorical approach, "our focus is on the elements of the statute of conviction and not [on] the particular facts underlying that conviction." Id. at 972 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). The state crime of conviction will qualify as a controlled substance offense only if it criminalizes no more conduct than the offenses listed in the Guidelines.

         The categorical approach "requires application of both federal . . . and state law." United States v. Harris, 844 F.3d 1260, 1264 (10th Cir. 2017). "[S]tate law defines the substantive elements of the crime of conviction." Id. By contrast, federal courts are tasked with ascertaining the "generic, contemporary meaning" of undefined offenses enumerated in the Guidelines. See United States v. Rivera-Oros, 590 F.3d 1123, 1126 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 598 (1990)).

         Because we are confronted with a disjunctively phrased statute, we begin by analyzing whether the modified categorical approach is appropriate. See United States v. Abeyta, 877 F.3d 935, 940 (10th Cir. 2017) ("In applying the categorical approach, a court must determine whether the modified categorical approach is appropriate."). We apply the modified categorical approach when the state statute is divisible-"i.e., if it contains more than one crime." United States v. Degeare, 884 F.3d 1241, 1246 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under the modified categorical approach, we compare the elements of the defendant's precise crime of conviction to the Guidelines' definition and disregard the alternatives enumerated in the statute. See United States v. Titties, 852 F.3d 1257, 1266 (10th Cir. 2017).

         But a statute is divisible and therefore subject to the modified approach only if it lists elements, rather than means, in the alternative. Id. at 1267. Thus, our first task is "to determine whether its listed items are elements or means." Abeyta, 877 F.3d at 941 (quoting Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2256 (2016)). "'Elements' are the 'constituent parts' of a crime's legal definition-the things the 'prosecution must prove to sustain a conviction.'" Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2248 (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 634 (10th ed. 2014)). "The means, however, 'are mere real-world things- extraneous to the crime's legal requirements.'" Abeyta, 877 F.3d at 941 (quoting Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2248). "There are three general tools courts use to decide whether listed items in an alternatively phrased criminal law are elements or means: (1) the statutory text; (2) state court decisions; and (3) the record of the prior conviction itself." Id.

         Relying primarily on the statutory text, [5] the government asserts that Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-408 is divisible; that offering, soliciting, attempting, endeavoring, and conspiring each constitute separate crimes. Mr. Faulkner offers no response, presumably because the divisibility determination does not affect his argument on appeal. Indeed, he argues that the crime of conviction (endeavoring), and not the purportedly divisible alternatives listed in § 2-408, is broader than the Guidelines' definition of a controlled substance offense-precisely the analysis conducted under the modified categorical approach.[6] In light of this posture, and without more fulsome, adversarial briefing, we assume without deciding that the statute is divisible and apply the modified categorical approach, examining only whether Oklahoma's crime of endeavoring to manufacture a controlled dangerous substance sweeps more broadly than the inchoate offenses enumerated in the Guidelines.

         The parties apparently agree that of the offenses listed in Application Note 1 to § 4B1.2-"aiding and abetting, conspiring, and attempting"-endeavoring's closest analogue is "attempting." Thus, we must analyze whether the Oklahoma crime of endeavoring is no broader than the generic definition of attempt.

         Mr. Faulkner's principal argument is that a conviction for endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine can be sustained on much more incipient acts than those required to convict for generic attempt. We first review Oklahoma law to define the elements of endeavoring before describing the elements of generic attempt.

         1. The Elements of Oklahoma's Endeavoring Statute

         Under Okla. Stat. tit 63, § 2-408, "[a]ny person who offers, solicits, attempts, endeavors, or conspires to commit any offense defined in the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act . . . shall be subject to the penalty prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was ...


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