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United States v. Jordan

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DARENCE LAMONT JORDAN, Defendant.

          ORDER REINSTATING RIGHT TO BENEFITS

          TROY L. NUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Darence Lamont Jordan's (hereafter, “Defendant”) Motion to Reinstate Rights to Federal Benefits. (ECF No. 267.) The government filed an opposition (ECF No. 268), and Defendant filed a reply (ECF No. 271). For the reasons set forth in this Order, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On October 9, 2008, Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of an Indictment that charged him with distribution of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (ECF No. 86; ECF No. 88 at 2.) Defendant was sentenced to 168 months imprisonment. (ECF No. 110 at 2.) The judgment and commitment order recommended that Defendant “participate in the 500-Hour Bureau of Prisons Substance Abuse Treatment Program, ” commonly known by the acronym “RDAP.” (ECF No. 110 at 2.) The judgment and commitment order further provided that “[i]f defendant successfully completes the Drug Program, his rights to federal benefits being denied is suspended.” (ECF No. 110 at 2.)

         Defendant informs the Court that he completed RDAP on February 6, 2019. (ECF No. 267 at 3.) As a result, Defendant argues that he “has completed the conditions precedent required by Judge Karlton in the Judgment and Commitment and his federal benefits should now be reinstated.” (ECF No. 267 at 3.)

         In opposition, the government identifies two distinct grounds for its contention that the Court is barred from granting Defendant his requested relief. First, the government argues that Defendant is permanently - and mandatorily - ineligible for all federal benefits pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 862(a)(1)(C) because the instant offense was Defendant's third felony conviction consisting of distribution of controlled substances. (ECF No. 268 at 2.) The government asserts that 21 U.S.C. § 862(c), upon which Defendant bases his claim for relief, is inapposite because that section only applies to “offenders with less than three qualifying felony convictions.” (ECF No. 268 at 2.) For his part, Defendant disputes that two of his prior felony convictions were for distributing controlled substances; Defendant argues that these two prior felony convictions were for possession, as distinguished from distribution, meaning that 21 U.S.C. § 862(a)(1)(C) is inapplicable to him. (ECF No. 271 at 1-5.)

         Second, the government argues that Defendant's conviction renders him ineligible for certain state-based nutritional programs pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 862a(a), which is a statutory provision distinct from 21 U.S.C. § 862(a) that automatically bars any individual convicted of a drug felony from receiving state-based nutritional program benefits. (ECF No. 268 at 3.) Defendant points out that subsection (d)(1)(A) of 21 U.S.C. § 862a, however, allows a state to exempt its residents from the operation of § 862a(a)'s bar on participation in nutrition-related assistance programs. (ECF No. 271 at 8-10.) Defendant admits that he was unable to confirm whether California is one such state. (ECF No. 271 at 8-9.)

         II. Standard of Law

         A. Ineligibility Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 862

         Federal law provides that defendants convicted of various narcotics crimes can be rendered ineligible for certain federal benefits. 21 U.S.C. § 862. The benefits which can be withheld from those convicted of drug crimes include the “issuance of any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States, ” but do not include “any retirement, welfare, Social Security, health, disability, veterans benefit, public housing, or other similar benefit, or any other benefit for which payments or services are required for eligibility.” Id. § 862(d). A defendant convicted of a federal or state offense “consisting of the distribution of controlled substances shall . . . at the discretion of the court, upon the first conviction for such an offense be ineligible for any or all Federal benefits for up to 5 years after such conviction.” Id. § 862(a)(1)(A). Similarly, a defendant with one prior drug distribution conviction who is again convicted of a distribution-related crime can, in the sentencing court's discretion, be rendered “ineligible for any or all Federal benefits for up to 10 years after such conviction.” Id. § 862(a)(1)(B). But a sentencing court has no discretion for a defendant who is convicted a third or subsequent time of a drug distribution offense: such a defendant is “permanently ineligible for all Federal benefits.” Id. § 862(a)(1)(C).

         The statute functions similarly for defendants convicted of drug possession crimes, as distinct from drug distribution crimes. A defendant convicted for the first time of an offense “involving the possession of a controlled substance” shall, at the discretion of the sentencing court, “be ineligible for any or all Federal benefits for up to one year.” Id. § 862(b)(1)(A)(i). A defendant convicted of such an offense for the second time may, at the sentencing court's discretion, “be ineligible for all Federal benefits for up to 5 years after such conviction.” Id. § 862(b)(1)(B).

         Despite its focus on ensuring that drug distributors and possessors not obtain federal benefits, the statutory scheme contains an escape hatch by which a defendant's ineligibility for federal benefits is suspended if the defendant “completes a supervised drug rehabilitation program after becoming ineligible.” Id. § 862(c). This suspension applies to “[t]he period of ineligibility referred to in subsections (a) and (b).” Id.; see also United States v. Littlejohn, 224 F.3d 960, 966 (9th Cir. 2000) (“Ineligibility under subsection 862(a) may be suspended under 21 U.S.C. § 862(c), contingent upon rehabilitation or attempts at rehabilitation . . . .”).

         B. Ineligibility Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 862a

         In addition to the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 862, a criminal defendant may also be rendered ineligible for certain other public benefits pursuant to an entirely separate ...


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