The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 26, 2013

Drug sentence hangs on whether status is ‘career offender’

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — A Shenango Valley man pleaded guilty to a federal drug offense Wednesday, but it’s not clear what kind of sentence he will face.

Maurice Davis, 28, pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Pittsburgh, believes Davis is a career offender, while the Federal Public Defender’s Office argues he is not.

U.S. District Court Judge Gustave Diamond will make an initial determination as to whether he is a career offender, although both sides said an appellate case will set a precedent that Davis’ case eventually will conform to.

The charge carries a sentence of 5 to 40 years in prison. If he is deemed a career offender, Davis’ sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of 21.8 to 27.75 years, Diamond said. While Diamond does not have to sentence within the guidelines, judges frequently do.

The sentence guidelines he would face without the career offender designation has not been made public.

Although Davis gave up many of his appeal rights in the plea agreement with prosecutors, the deal specifically allows him to appeal a career offender designation.

Prosecutors and the defense agree that Davis’ previous cocaine-related conviction is a qualifying offense under the career offender statute. The dispute arises from a conviction of fleeing police, which prosecutors contend is a crime of violence, but the defense says is not.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen said he will not have to try that conviction before Diamond at Davis’ sentencing, but officials will look at his plea in that case and other documentary details.

The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, is considering a case dealing with whether fleeing police is a crime of violence, Rosen said.

Wednesday’s guilty plea stems from an April 12, 2012, search of Davis’ home at 421 Malleable St., Sharon.

State police had made controlled buys of drugs from Davis and charged him with selling 2.4 grams of crack to an informant for $180 Jan. 20, 2012, at his home.

When police went to arrest Davis on charges related to that buy, they found marijuana on his kitchen table.

Police obtained a search warrant for the home and a drug dog indicated an area in the kitchen pantry. Police found a trap door and turned up crack and powder cocaine, marijuana and 20 painkilling Roxicet pills.

The amount of cocaine was 6.4 ounces, and the amount of marijuana was 4.9 ounces.

Police also seized $4,550, which Rosen alleged was earned through drug sales, two digital scales and other drug paraphernalia.

State police initially filed the charges in state court based on the controlled buy and the search and those cases are pending.

A separate case, in which Davis was charged with attempted homicide and other offenses for shooting a woman in the leg Jan. 5, 2011, on the sidewalk in the 700 block of Idaho Street, Farrell, also is pending.

Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said his office will review those cases once the federal prosecution plays out and decide whether to pursue them or not.

Diamond had set sentencing for January 22, but Assistant Public Defender W. Penn Hackney asked that it be held sooner so Davis can move to the federal prison system more quickly.

Diamond set a new date of Dec. 18.