United States v Martinez-Cruz

Martinez-Cruz appealed his sentencing enhancement arguing his prior federal drug conspiracy conviction was not a generic conspiracy crime. The panel reversed and remanded. It held that under circuit precedent, guidelines are interpreted to effectuate the clear intent of the sentencing commission, but, when the intent in not clear the panel must use the categorical approach. It held that “conspiring”, as used in the relevant guideline here, was an undefined term and thus the intent of the commission is unclear particular as the guideline applies to all conspiracy conviction whether based on local, state or federal law. It found percussive a 9th Circuit opinion that surveyed state law and concluded a large majority require an overt act to conclude generic conspiracy requires an over act and noted the federal general conspiracy statute also requires an overt act. It rejected the government’s positon to the contrary holding the cases relied upon failed to grapple with the federal laws which require an overt act and created desperate treatment of state and federal conspiracy convictions. Applying here, it held the enhancement was incorrectly applied as federal drug conspiracies do not require an overt act and thus remanded for a new sentencing.