Published on: Friday, November 12, 2021

After receiving a tip from the operator of a storage facility, Delaware police get a search warrant and find three kilos of marijuana, along with scales and packaging material. The marijuana's owner is charged under the federal "crack house" law, which prohibits renting or using property "for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using" drugs. Owner: I was only "storing" drugs there, and that's not listed. Third Circuit (en banc): Nice try, but your pattern of visits and the presence of scales and baggies makes it pretty clear you were "distributing." But your prior conviction for attempting to possess cocaine with intent to distribute shouldn’t have lengthened your sentence because the U.S. sentencing guidelines’ definition of a career offender doesn’t include “inchoate” drug offenses. Your sentence was wrong, so we send it back down. Speaking of which, courts must curtail its deference to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. “Before deferring, we must first exhaust our traditional tools of statutory construction.” Concurrence: The sentence was indeed wrong, and here's why the rule of lenity is the solution.

The case is United States v. Nasir, No. 18-02888 (3d Cir. en banc Nov. 8, 2021).