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Garba v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 29, 2014

OSMAN GARBA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARY L. COOPER, District Judge.

This matter is before this Court on the Motion for Reconsideration by Petitioner, Osman Garba. (Dkt. 15.) This Motion is directed to the Memorandum Opinion, and the Order and Judgment, both entered in this case on April 30, 2013, which denied Petitioner's motion filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and declined to issue a certificate of appealability. (Dkt. 13, 14.) Specifically, Petitioner asks this Court to reconsider our ruling in light of Alleyne v. United States , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013), decided by the United States Supreme Court on June 17, 2013. We will deny the Motion for Reconsideration for the following reasons.

BACKGROUND

Petitioner is serving a term of 280 months incarceration imposed by this Court based upon his guilty plea, pursuant to a written plea agreement, to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, contrary to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. The extensive procedural history of the underlying criminal action is summarized in the Memorandum Opinion filed in this Section 2255 action (dkt. 13, 4-30-13 Mem. Op.), and will not be repeated here. That Memorandum Opinion, and the accompanying Order and Judgment, were filed on April 30, 2013. On June 27, 2013, Petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal from that Judgment. (Dkt. 16.) On the same day, Petitioner filed the current Motion for Reconsideration ("this Motion"). (Dkt. 15.) We issued scheduling orders, and the parties have completed their briefing of the issues raised in this Motion. The matter is decided without oral argument, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 78(b).[1]

Count one of the superseding indictment, to which Petitioner pleaded guilty on March 11, 2002, alleged his participation in a conspiracy involving more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. (See 4-30-13 Mem. Op. at 1.)[2] The penalty for that federal offense was (and is) a mandatory minimum of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(ii). Petitioner was so informed by his written plea agreement itself, and he was so advised by this Court at his Rule 11 plea hearing. (See 4-30-13 Mem. Op. at 21-22.) His sentence of 280 months is within that statutory sentencing range. (Id. at 1-2.) We have ruled, in the Memorandum Opinion on the Section 2255 motion filed on April 30, 2013, that there was no ineffective assistance in the representation provided to Petitioner by his defense counsel relating to his guilty plea. (Id. (passim).) That ruling is the subject of Petitioner's pending Notice of Appeal filed on June 27, 2013.

Petitioner contends in this Motion that Alleyne controls his Section 2255 claims, and requires his Petition to be granted. (See dkt. 15, 19, 23, 24.) Respondent opposes the Motion, arguing that Alleyne is not controlling as to his case. (See dkt. 22.)

DISCUSSION

Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) governs the Court's review of this Motion. To prevail on such a motion, the movant must show: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court... [rendered the judgment in question, namely the Section 2255 Judgment]; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros , 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3rd Cir. 1999).

Petitioner argues that Alleyne is an intervening change in the law controlling his Section 2255 Motion. Alleyne involved a defendant who was convicted at jury trial under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). That law provides that anyone who "uses or carries a firearm" in relation to a "crime of violence" shall be subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum, but if the firearm was "brandished, " the mandatory minimum is increased to 7 years. At Alleyne's trial, the jury indicated on the verdict form that he had "used or carried a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, " but did not indicate a finding that the firearm was "brandished." He was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment on that count, based upon a ruling by the trial court (affirmed on appeal) that "brandishing" would be a sentencing factor rather than an element of the offense, because while "brandishing" did increase the mandatory minimum, it did not increase the statutory maximum. Thus, ruled the lower courts, Alleyne's objection was foreclosed by Harris v. United States , 536 U.S. 545 (2002). Harris held that in contrast to Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466 (2000), which found judicial factfinding that increased the statutory maximum term to be unconstitutional, judicial factfinding that increased the statutory mandatory minimum term did not offend the Constitution. The Supreme Court expressly overruled Harris in its Alleyne decision, holding as follows:

Harris drew a distinction between facts that increase the statutory maximum and facts that increase only the mandatory minimum. We conclude that this distinction is inconsistent with our decision in Apprendi..., and with the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment. Any fact that, by law, increases the penalty for a crime is an "element" that must be submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt.... Mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime. It follows, then, that any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an "element" that must be submitted to the jury. Accordingly, Harris is overruled.

Alleyne , 133 S.Ct. at 2155.

Petitioner points out the undisputed facts that he was charged in the superseding indictment with conspiracy involving more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, a charge to which he pleaded guilty, and that at sentencing this Court calculated his advisory guideline range based upon a quantity of 15 to 50 kilograms of cocaine. (See 4-30-13 Mem. Op. at 7 n.4, and nn.12-14 and accompanying text at 41-42.)[3] He contends in this Motion that Alleyne requires that any quantity of cocaine above 5 kilograms may not be assigned to him for offense level calculation purposes, and would have had to be charged in the indictment and determined by a jury. (See dkt. 19 at 3-4.) He asserts that in his case, "the increase in drug quantity and other elements that the Court relied on to raise [his] sentence above the mandatory minimum were not charged in the indictment and were found by the preponderance of the evidence." (Dkt. 15 at 2.) Based on this argument, he seeks to have his sentence vacated. (Id.) He asserts that "at the minimum, ... the two offense level drug quantity increment must be taken off from the current sentence, thus [he] be resentenced starting at offense level 32 as per in the indictment." (Dkt. 19 at 4.)[4]

This argument is legally incorrect for two reasons. First, Alleyne addressed a situation where that defendant did not plead guilty. Mr. Alleyne maintained his "not guilty" plea and proceeded to jury trial, thus preserving his constitutional rights to have a jury determine whether the elements of the offense were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It is clear from the Apprendi jurisprudence that if a defendant pleads guilty to the indictment, the elements of the charged offense have been established by his own testimony. As we have explained in the Memorandum Opinion filed on April 30, 2013:

We further conclude that petitioner cannot establish that his sentence of 280 months was in violation of Apprendi and its progeny. That sentence falls within the statutory sentencing range of ten years to life imprisonment for the offense charged in count one, on which he pled guilty and admitted those facts at the Rule 11 plea hearing.... See Blakely v. Washington , 542 U.S. 296, 303... ("Our precedents make clear... that the statutory maximum' for Apprendi purposes is the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant.")... [T]he Court of Appeals scoured the record to find any non-frivolous issues when petitioner's post-Booker sentence was before it on appeal, ... and the Court did not even mention Apprendi as a

potentially viable ground for attacking his conviction and sentence. (See 4-30-13 Mem. Op. at 27-28.) This same rule was reiterated in United States v. Booker, when the Court stated, "[W]e reaffirm our holding in Apprendi: Any fact (other than a prior conviction) which is necessary to support a sentence exceeding the maximum authorized by the facts established by a plea of guilty or a jury verdict must be admitted by the defendant or proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt." 543 U.S. 220, 244 (2005). Thus, as we have explained above, by pleading guilty to conspiracy involving more than 5 kilograms of cocaine as charged in count one in this case, Petitioner became statutorily subject to a sentence between the mandatory minimum of ten years and life imprisonment. Nothing in Alleyne changes that result.

The second reason why Petitioner's argument on this Motion is unavailing is that he incorrectly reads Alleyne to prohibit any judicially-determined sentencing facts that would increase the advisory guideline range above the mandatory minimum of ten years. Nothing in Alleyne conflicts with the well-settled rule of Apprendi that facts that do not constitute essential elements of the offense may be judicially determined in calculating the applicable advisory guideline range. To the contrary, the Court in Alleyne took care to distinguish such judicial factfinding as untouched by its holding:

Juries must find any facts that increase either the statutory maximum or minimum because the Sixth Amendment applies where a finding of fact both alters the legally prescribed range and does so in a way that aggravates the penalty. Importantly, this is distinct from factfinding used to guide judicial discretion in selecting a punishment "within limits fixed by law." Williams v. New York , 337 U.S. 241... (1949). While such findings of fact may lead judges to select sentences that are more severe than the ones they would have selected without those facts, the Sixth Amendment does not govern that element of sentencing.

Alleyne , 133 S.Ct. at 2161 n.2 (emphasis in original).

A recent decision of a panel of our Court of Appeals made the same point in explaining that offense level enhancements under the guidelines are not subject to the constitutional limitations imposed in Apprendi and Alleyne. United States v. Trimino, No. 13-1756, 2013 WL 5738903, at *2 (3d Cir. Oct. 23, 2013). There, in a case that did not involve a mandatory minimum but that did involve judicial factfinding after a guilty plea, the court distinguished Alleyne on the facts, ruling as follows:

Here the maximum sentence - with or without the 4-level enhancement - was ten years and the enhancement did not increase any mandatory minimum that the Court was obliged to impose. Accordingly, the Court by the use of the enhancement simply increased the advisory but not binding sentencing range to which Trimino was subject. Thus, United States v. Grier , 475 F.3d 556, 559 (3d Cir. 2007) (en banc), which held "that facts relevant to the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines need not be submitted to a jury" is controlling here and we are constrained to affirm.

Id. at *1. The Trimino opinion added the following explanatory comments:

Alleyne, like Apprendi, is not applicable here because the [4-level] body armor enhancement [in calculating guidelines offense level] did not increase any mandatory minimum sentence to which Trimino was subject. Second, we see nothing in the record that in any way made it unfair for the District Court to use the enhancement in calculating his offense level. To the contrary when the Court calculated his sentencing range it acted consistently with the provisions of Trimino's plea agreement.

Id. at *2.

We conclude that the factual judicial determinations that increased Petitioner's guideline offense level based upon findings of cocaine quantity of 15 to 50 kilograms and other guideline enhancement factors were legally appropriate. Those determinations, and the ultimate post-Booker sentence based upon a minor variance in Petitioner's favor, were not inconsistent with any of the constitutional limitations set forth in Apprendi or its new companion ruling, Alleyne.

The Court recognizes that Respondent also contends that relief is unavailable under Alleyne because the Alleyne rule will likely be found not retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review. (Dkt. 22 at 7-9.) We find it unnecessary to address that issue to adjudicate this Motion, for the reasons stated above. We note that the Alleyne retroactivity issue is currently being litigated in this Circuit in United States v. Reyes, 3d Cir. No. 13-3537, on appeal from United States v. Reyes, No. 11-6234 , 2013 WL 4042508 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 8, 2013).

CONCLUSION

This Court concludes that the guidelines calculation that it made, both in Petitioner's original sentencing and in his post-Booker sentencing, would not be found subject to any constitutional infirmity under the recently-announced rule in United States v. Alleyne. For this reason, the Motion for Reconsideration will be denied.

We further find that in this Motion the Petitioner has not made a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right." 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2); United States v. Cepero , 224 F.3d 256, 267-68 (3d Cir. 2000). Accordingly, we continue to rule that no certificate of appealability will issue in this case.


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