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Look-alike offense counts as controlled-substance offense in sentencing

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A previous conviction for a “look-alike” offense constitutes a controlled-substance offense for sentencing purposes, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the first time Tuesday.

Irvin Hudson challenged the District Court’s decision that Hudson’s previous conviction of dealing in a substance represented to be a controlled substance – a “look-alike” drug offense – qualified as a controlled-substance offense for calculating his sentence following his guilty plea to possession of a firearm as a felon and possession of a stolen firearm. By having a previous conviction for a controlled-substance offense, Hudson’s sentencing guideline would increase from a base level 14 to a base level 20.

Although the federal guideline sections don’t define the term “counterfeit substance,” there’s no reason why the guidelines must be restricted to a particular state’s concept of what is meant by that term, wrote Judge Diane Wood in United States of America v. Irvin S. Hudson, No. 09-3518. Other Circuit Courts have relied on dictionary definitions of “counterfeit” to find look-alike offenses qualify as a controlled-substance offense under the guidelines.

“Using an independent federal definition of the term thus supports the conclusion that Hudson was convicted of a controlled-substance offense for dealing counterfeit marijuana,” she wrote. "Counsel for Hudson presented a responsible argument, which has convinced some judges that look-alike offenses are not controlled-substance offenses. His position may be worth the attention of the Sentencing Commission or other courts. But, in the end, we are not persuaded.”

Judge Wood noted that at least four sister Circuits have adopted the government’s interpretation of the sentencing guidelines and classified look-alike offenses as controlled-substance offenses. The government also has a point when it argued that it would be nonsensical to punish the selling of controlled substances and mislabeled prescription drugs but not the selling of look-alikes, she noted.

“Given the natural meaning of ‘counterfeit’ and the overall purpose of the guidelines provisions, we decline to adopt Hudson’s narrow definition of ‘counterfeit offense’ as applied to U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1,” wrote Judge Wood.
 

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