The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) applies to a person who "violates section 922(g)" and "has three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense." 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(l). A "serious drug offense" is defined in relevant part as "an offense under State law . . . for which a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years or more is prescribed by law." § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii) (emphasis added). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's classification of Petitioner's North Carolina drug offenses as "serious drug offenses" under ACCA, even though at the time of Petitioner's federal sentencing, North Carolina's current sentencing law did not prescribe a maximum term of imprisonment of at least ten years for those state drug offenses. The Fourth Circuit held that since North Carolina did not apply its current sentencing law retroactively, the fact that Petitioner's drug offenses were punishable by imprisonment for at least ten years under the version of the law in effect at the time he committed these offenses qualified them as "serious drug offenses" under ACCA.Question Presented:
Whether the plain meaning of "is prescribed by law" which ACCA uses to define a predicate "serious drug offense" requires a federal sentencing court to look to the maximum penalty prescribed by current state law for a drug offense at the time of the instant federal offense, regardless of whether the state has made that current sentencing law retroactive.Question:
Can a conviction under state law be treated as a serious drug offense for purposes of a longer sentence under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, if the state law violated did not at the time of federal sentencing set a maximum prison term of at least 10 years, but had done so at the time the crime was committed?