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United States v. Tanksley

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 18, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
DANTANA TANKSLEY, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

         ON PETITION FOR PANEL REHEARING

          Before REAVLEY, ELROD, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          REAVLEY, Circuit Judge:

         In light of Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), and United States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 2016), we granted defendant Dantana Tanksley's motion for panel rehearing to decide whether United States v. Ford, 509 F.3d 714 (5th Cir. 2007), still represents the law. Ford held that a conviction for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance under section 481.112(a) of the Texas Health and Safety Code ("Section 481.112(a)") qualifies as a "controlled substance offense" under the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual (the "Guidelines"). On rehearing, our prior panel opinion is WITHDRAWN, and this opinion is SUBSTITUTED therefor.

         I.

         In 2015, Tanksley pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms. At sentencing, the district court found that a prior conviction under Section 481.112(a) for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance constituted a "controlled substance offense" within the meaning of the Guidelines, § 4B1.1. Tanksley objected to this particular enhancement but conceded his objection was foreclosed by Ford. Tanksley then appealed, again conceding that Ford foreclosed this argument. Indeed, both of the arguments Tanksley made on appeal-he also disputed the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)-were admittedly foreclosed, and we granted the government's unopposed motion for summary affirmance. See United States v. Tanksley, Case No. 15-11078, 2016 WL 4375058 (5th Cir. Aug. 16, 2016). Shortly before we affirmed Tanksley's conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court issued Mathis. Based on that decision and this Court's decision in Hinkle, Tanksley moved for panel rehearing. We granted the motion.

         Mathis is relevant to the district court's determination that the Section 481.112(a) conviction represented a controlled substance offense under the Guidelines. "In determining if a prior conviction is for an offense enumerated or defined in a Guidelines provision, we generally apply the categorical approach and look to the elements of the offense enumerated or defined by the Guideline section and compare those elements to the elements of the prior offense for which the defendant was convicted." United States v. Howell, 838 F.3d 489, 494 (5th Cir. 2016). Some criminal statutes, however, are "divisible, " meaning a single statute "define[s] multiple crimes." Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2249. The Supreme Court has "approved the 'modified categorical approach' for use with statutes having multiple alternative elements, " permitting courts to examine "a limited class of documents (for example, the indictment, jury instructions, or plea agreement and colloquy) to determine what crime, with what elements, a defendant was convicted of." Id. With the precise crime thus identified, the court can then apply the categorical approach, asking whether that precise crime matches the Guidelines offense at issue. Id.

         Some criminal statutes appear divisible but are not. These statutes, rather than providing alternative elements, instead list "various factual means of committing a single element." Id. In Mathis, the Supreme Court held that the modified categorical approach is not appropriate for this species of criminal statute. Id. at 2257. More importantly here, it also "provided helpful guidance for determining whether a predicate statute of conviction is divisible." United States v. Uribe, 838 F.3d 667, 670 (5th Cir. 2016). This factual and legal backgrounded concluded, we turn to our analysis.

         II.

         We have been asked to find an otherwise controlling precedent obsolete. While the defendant argues that, together, Mathis and Hinkle put Ford into doubt, it is appropriate to focus our inquiry on Mathis. This is because, under the rule of orderliness, "one panel of this Court may not overrule another." United States v. Segura, 747 F.3d 323, 328 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Cent. Pines Land Co. v. United States, 274 F.3d 881, 893 (5th Cir. 2001)). As a corollary, "to the extent that a more recent case contradicts an older case, the newer language has no effect." Arnold v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 213 F.3d 193, 196 n.4 (5th Cir. 2000). If, however, a Supreme Court decision "expressly or implicitly" overrules one of our precedents, we have the authority and obligation to declare and implement this change in the law. See United States v. Kirk, 528 F.2d 1057, 1063 (5th Cir. 1976). "Such an intervening change in the law must be unequivocal, not a mere 'hint' of how the Court might rule in the future." United States v. Alcantar, 733 F.3d 143, 146 (5th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, only Mathis can inter Ford, and we ignore Hinkle while asking whether the Supreme Court unequivocally abrogated Ford.[1]

         Under Section 481.112(a), "a person commits an offense if the person knowingly manufactures, delivers, or possesses with intent to deliver a controlled substance" as defined elsewhere in the Code. Ford's feature holding was that a conviction for "'possession with an intent to deliver' a controlled substance under section 481.112(a) . . . can be used as a basis for a sentence enhancement as a 'controlled substance offense' under" the Guidelines. 509 F.3d at 715. That holding, if still applicable, controls this case because the defendant here was also convicted of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

         More important for our purposes, however, is Ford's necessary predicate holding-that Section 481.112(a) is a divisible statute such that (1) use of the modified categorical approach is appropriate and (2) "possession with intent to deliver" a controlled substance is a distinct crime from mere delivery of that same controlled substance. This holding was crucial because, in United States v. Gonzales, 484 F.3d 712 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam), we had already held that a conviction for delivery of a controlled substance under that same Section 481.112(a) was not a "drug trafficking offense" under the Guidelines. There being no substantive difference between a "controlled substance offense" and a "drug trafficking offense" under the Guidelines, the holding in Gonzales would necessarily control the outcome in Ford if Section 481.112(a)'s reference to manufacture, delivery, and possession with intent to deliver merely set forth three ways to commit one crime rather than three separate crimes.

         To reconcile Gonzales, Ford explained that the "significant distinction" was that defendant Jason Jermaine Ford been convicted "for possession with the intent to deliver rather than just delivery or transportation." Ford, 509 F.3d at 717. In other words, possession with intent to deliver and actual (or mere) delivery are two separate crimes-one that qualifies as a controlled substance offense, one that does not. We have subsequently recognized and maintained this line drawn in Ford. See Vasquez-Martinez v. Holder, 564 F.3d 712, 718-19 (5th Cir. 2009). And, prior to Mathis, Section 481.112(a)'s status as a ...


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