Florida Court Upholds 17.5 Year Prison Term for Ecstasy Conviction – U.S. v. Morris

If you don’t believe a drug charge in Florida is a serious matter that can have far reaching consequences, just look at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in U.S. v. Morris, in which the Court upheld a 17.5 year prison sentence for a man convicted on one criminal drug count.

Freeman Morris was convicted in Florida of possession of MDMA (ecstasy) with intent to distribute, a federal crime. Although federal sentencing guidelines provide for a prison sentence of 110 to 137 months, a U.S. district court found that Freeman was subject to enhanced sentencing as a “career offender.” A defendant is a career offender if, among other requirements, he has two prior felony convictions involving either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense. The district court found Morris’ previous convictions for battery on a law enforcement officer and obstructing a law enforcement officer qualified as “crimes of violence.” As a result, the court sentenced Freeman to 210 months in prison.

On appeal, Freeman argued that the lower court wrongly concluded that his previous convictions were “crimes of violence.” The Eleventh Circuit, however, disagreed.

In order to determine whether an offense qualifies as a “crime of violence,” the Court explained “we consider the offense generically . . . in terms of how the law defines the offense and not in terms of how an individual offender might have committed it on a particular occasion.” An offense may be considered one of violence where it includes the use of force or a threat thereof; the offense is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion or involves the use of explosives; or where it “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

In its 2010 decision in U.S. v. Williams, the Court set aside an enhanced sentence in which a lower court found that battery on a police officer was a violent crime. The Court noted that, under Florida law, a person could be convicted of this offense for merely touching an officer.

Here, however, the appeals court found that the District Court did not commit a reversible error for finding that Freeman’s battery of an officer was a “crime of violence,” because the offense “has the potential to create a confrontation leading to violence,” and therefore could “arguably” be considered violent.

The lower court also didn’t err in finding that Freeman’s conviction for obstruction of a police officer in Georgia, which involves obstructing or opposing a police officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties (such as making an arrest), was also a “crime of violence.” The Court found that the crime “poses a threat of direct confrontation between a police officer and the subject of the arrest, creating the potential for serious physical injury to the officer and others.”

If you are facing a drug charge in Florida, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who will advocate for your rights and interests. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have years of experience handling drug possession cases and will work to develop an effective legal defense, seeking to get your charges dismissed or reduced.

Related blog posts:

Ruling Makes it Easier for Drug Possession Defendants to Seek Alternative Sentencing – McGrill v. State

Florida Court Reverses Oxycodone Conviction for Man Who Had a Prescription – Celeste v. State

Court Sends Question of Cell Phone Search During Criminal Arrest to Supreme Court – State v. Glasco