Updated May 6, 2016
Under federal law, defendants who have two or more felony convictions for a drug offense (state or federal), who are later convicted of drug-related crimes, will receive an enhanced sentence (life imprisonment). (21 U.S.C. section 841.) It’s been long settled that this federal sentencing scheme is not affected by any state expungement or dismissal remedies that defendants may qualify for. So it was only a matter of time that the situation discussed in United States v. Diaz et al, 2016 DJDAR 3778, would arise.
In the Diaz case, the defendant received an enhanced federal sentence due to his two prior California felonies. After the passage of Prop 47, he successfully applied to have one of them redesignated as a misdemeanor. He then asked the federal sentencing judge to reduce his federal sentence, because he now had only one such felony in his past.
The appellate court resoundingly said no. In a word, the federal system will define the term “prior conviction” according to its wishes, and if that excludes redesignated convictions from the states, that is the prerogative of the federal government.