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United States v. Collins

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 13, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Marlon Terrell Collins, Defendant.


JOAN N. ERICKSEN, District Judge.

In 1993, Defendant Marlon Terrell Collins pled guilty in federal district court to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime. United States v. Collins, No. 3:92-cr-138 (1) (RHK). In 1998, while on supervised release for that offense, Collins was again arrested and charged in federal district court for his involvement in the distribution of crack cocaine. In that instance, Collins pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. United States v. Collins, No. 98-cr-14 (1) (RHK).

Upon his release from prison in 2007, Collins began a five-year term of supervised release. Then,

[i]n September 2010, officials learned that Collins was obtaining narcotics in Arizona and arranging for their shipment with FedEx to Minnesota. Officials placed Collins under surveillance and observed him sending a package to an address in Minnesota. Officials intercepted the package, used a drug-sniffing dog to detect the presence of drugs, and eventually discovered 8.13 kilograms of marijuana and 1.48 kilograms of cocaine inside.

United States v. Collins, 546 F.Appx. 598, 598 (8th Cir. 2013). Collins was subsequently arrested and indicted in this matter. He pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and the Court sentenced him as a career offender to 264 months imprisonment and eight years of supervised release. That sentence was affirmed on appeal. Id.

Collins has now filed a motion to vacate or set aside his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. That statute provides that a federal prisoner "may move the court which imposed [his] sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence" on the ground "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Collins asserts that his sentence was imposed in violation of his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments.

A § 2255 movant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claims "[u]nless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that [he] is entitled to no relief." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). "Accordingly, a [motion] can be dismissed without a hearing if (1) the [movant's] allegations, accepted as true, would not entitle the [movant] to relief, or (2) the allegations cannot be accepted as true because they are contradicted by the record, inherently incredible, or conclusions rather than statements of fact." Engelen v. United States, 68 F.3d 238, 240-41 (8th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). See also Watson v. United States, 493 F.3d 960, 963 (8th Cir. 2007).

On that standard, and for the reasons discussed below, Collins' Eighth Amendment claim related to sentence enhancements under 21 U.S.C. § 851 is denied, while his Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims arising from his asserted cooperation with authorities will require an evidentiary hearing to resolve.

I. Eighth Amendment and § 851 enhancements.

First, under the rubric of the Eighth Amendment, Collins takes issue with the sentencing enhancements for recidivist drug offenders that the Government is authorized to seek under 21 U.S.C. § 851. Relying heavily on United States v. Young, 960 F.Supp.2d 881 (N.D. Iowa Aug. 16, 2013), Collins argues that the unreviewable discretion the statute grants to the Government has created a system in which a defendant may receive an enhanced sentence that is both disproportionate to his crime and disparate from those imposed on similarly-situated drug offenders against whom the Government does not seek a § 851 enhancement. According to Collins, his sentence in this case was the product of a § 851 enhancement, and as such, he is "the victim" of this "arbitrary" sentencing scheme.

As an initial matter, the role that the Government's § 851 enhancement played in Collins' sentencing should be clarified. Collins was indicted for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846. Twenty-one U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) specifies that a person convicted of such a crime "shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which may not be less than 5 years and not more than 40 years, " but, if the crime was committed "after a prior conviction for a felony drug offense has become final, such person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which may not be less than 10 years and not more than life imprisonment...." Under 21 U.S.C. § 851(a), this increase in the statutory sentencing range may be accomplished only where the Government "files an information with the court (and serves a copy of such information on the person or counsel for the person) stating in writing the previous convictions to be relied upon."

The Government did file an Information pursuant to § 851(a), which listed Collins' 1993 and 1998 federal convictions. Collins did not contest that those convictions constitute "felony drug offenses" within the meaning of § 841(b)(1)(B).[1] Accordingly, the mandatory minimum sentence for the conspiracy charge Collins faced was doubled from five to ten years, and the maximum possible sentence was increased from forty years to life. This enhanced statutory sentencing range was clearly set forth in the plea agreement that Collins entered into, was brought to his attention by the Court before he pled guilty, and was explained in the Presentence Investigation Report to which he did not object.

In any event, the 264-month sentence that Collins received was not dictated by the Government's decision to enhance the statutory sentencing range via its § 851 Information. Instead, that sentence was driven by the Court's determination that he qualifies as a career offender under § 4B1.1(a) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines because he has "at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense" - namely, the 1993 and 1998 federal convictions for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Although in this case those two prior offenses were also the subject of the Government's § 851 Information, the Court's finding that those convictions qualify Collins as a career offender was wholly independent of the Government's exercise of its discretion to use them to pursue an enhancement of the statutory sentencing range. See United States v. Wallace, 895 F.2d 487, 490 (8th Cir. 1990) ("There is nothing in the [career offender provisions of the] guidelines that provides that an information must be filed in order to rely upon prior offenses."). In other words, even if the Government had not filed an information under § 851, the Court would still have found Collins to be a career offender, and the 264-month sentence that was imposed would still have fallen comfortably within the unenhanced statutory range of five to forty years imprisonment.

With that said, the increase in the statutory sentencing range precipitated by the Government's § 851 Information did have some effect on the calculation of Collins' advisory guidelines range as a career offender under § 4B1.1(b). With the enhanced statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and with a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, Collins' adjusted offense level under § 4B1.1(b) was 34. With that career offender provision mandating a criminal history category of VI, Collins' guidelines range was 262-327 months. But, without the Government's § 851 Information, the unenhanced statutory maximum of forty years imprisonment would ...

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