The full court held in this case that the commentary to the United States Sentencing Guidelines “has no independent legal force—it serves only to interpret the Guidelines’ text, not to replace or modify it” (citations omitted). So, the court of appeals concluded, it need not accept a guideline interpretation contained in the commentary that is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the corresponding guideline’s text.

Applying this principle, the court rejected USSG § 4B1.2(b) comment (n.1)’s position that § 4B1.2(b) itself includes attempt crimes in its list of offenses involving “the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) or the possession of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) with intent to manufacture, import, export, distribute, or dispense.” The court found that no term in the guideline could support the comment’s construction to include attempt crimes, and it concluded that the comment “did not interpret a term in the guideline itself,” but rather impermissibly tried “to add an offense not listed in the guideline.” So it reversed the district court’s contrary holding.