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Sanders v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

July 13, 2017




         Derrick Sanders, an inmate in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, has filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Doc. #278. Having considered the pleadings and the record, including the relevant parts of Sanders' underlying criminal case, along with the relevant law, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary[1], and that the § 2255 motion should be denied.

         I Background Facts and Procedural History

         On March 3, 2015, Sanders entered a guilty plea to a federally-indicted charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 15 kilograms but less than 50 kilograms of cocaine. See Docs. #21 & #124. Prior to sentencing, the United States Probation Service prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), and that report noted that Sanders had received a 2003 conviction for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale, Mississippi, and a 2005 conviction for distribution of cocaine in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Doc. #243 at ¶¶ 30, 31. The PSR determined that Sanders' criminal conduct score in the instant case, after adjustment for his acceptance of responsibility, was a 29. Doc. #243 at ¶ 27. Based on Sanders' prior drug-related convictions, he was designated a “career offender” under United States Sentencing Guideline (“U.S.S.G.” or “Guidelines”) § 4B1.1(b)(4). U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b)(4); see also Doc. #243 at ¶ 24. This career offender enhancement raised Sanders' Guidelines range from 108-135 months to 151-188 months. See Doc. #243 at ¶¶18, 35, 60; see also U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(b) & Ch. 5, Pt. A (Sentencing Table). On October 29, 2015, Sanders was sentenced to 151 months imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release. Doc. #245.

         On appeal, Sanders' sentence was affirmed. See United States v. Sanders, 668 F.App'x 613, 614 (5th Cir. 2016); see also Doc. #274. On or about May 11, 2017, Sanders filed the instant motion, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and challenging his career offender determination under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(b). Doc. #278. The Government has responded, and this matter is ripe for review.

         II Legal Standard

         After a defendant has been convicted and exhausted his appeal rights, a court may presume that “he stands fairly and finally convicted.” United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 164 (1982). A motion brought pursuant to § 2255 is a “means of collateral attack on a federal sentence.” Cox v. Warden, Federal Detention Ctr., 911 F.2d 1111, 1113 (5th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). There are four separate grounds upon which a federal prisoner may move to vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence under 28 U.S.C. §2255: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. §2255(a). Collateral attack limits a movant's allegations to those of “constitutional or jurisdictional magnitude.” United States v. Samuels, 59 F.3d 526, 528 (5th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Relief under § 2255 is reserved, therefore, for violations of “constitutional rights and for that narrow compass of other injury that could not have been raised on direct appeal and, would, if condoned, result in a complete miscarriage of justice.” United States v. Capua, 656 F.2d 1033, 1037 (5th Cir. 1981).

         III Discussion

         A. Career Offender Designation

         A defendant who has at least two prior felony convictions for a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense qualifies as a career offender the Guidelines if the defendant is at least eighteen years old at the time he committed the instant offense of conviction, and the instant offense of conviction is either a felony crime of violence or a felony controlled substance offense. See U.S.S. G. § 4B1.1(a). The Guidelines classify a “controlled substance offense” as:

an offense under federal or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, that prohibits 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.

U.S.S.G. 4B1.2. The commentary explains that “controlled substance offense includes the offense[] of . . . conspiring. . . to commit such offense[].” Guideline § 4B1.2 cmt. n. 1.

         Sanders' 2005 federal conviction for distribution of cocaine base clearly qualifies as a prior controlled substance offense for purposes of determining Sanders' status as a career offender, and he does not claim error as to his prior federal conviction. However, he claims that his 2003 State conviction for conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute is no longer a qualifying predicate offense for the career offender enhancement. Specifically, he maintains that the conviction is not countable as a “controlled substance offense” for career offender enhancement purposes, because Mississippi's controlled substances statute criminalizes conduct outside of the Controlled Substances Act. In support of this argument, he cites United States v. Hinkle, 832 F.3d 569 (5th Cir. 20016). In Hinkle, the appellate court found the defendant's prior Texas conviction for delivery of heroin did not qualify as a controlled substance offense under § 4B1.2, because the Texas conviction could have been obtained by an offer to sell, which is conduct broader than that encompassed by the Guidelines definition of a controlled substance offense. See Hinkle, 832 F.3d at 576; Doc. #279 at 3, 7.

         The Court notes that the crime underlying Sanders' 2003 conspiracy conviction was Miss. Code Ann. ...

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