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United States v. Sanchez

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 29, 2017



          MARK A. GOLDSMITH, United States District Judge.

         On March 18, 2016, a jury found Defendant Gabriel Urzua Sanchez guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substances, and attempted possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & 846. See Jury Verdict Form (Dkt. 61). Prior to trial, the Government filed a notice under 21 U.S.C. § 851 of its intent to seek an enhanced sentence due to Defendant's prior controlled-substance conviction (Dkt. 11).

         A sentencing hearing was held on October 5, 2016. At that hearing, Defendant raised objections to a calculation in the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSIR”), and he later lodged those objections as a motion. That motion, which argued that Defendant's prior offenses under Minnesota law should not have been used to enhance his sentence pursuant to the Government's § 851 notice, was filed on November 2, 2016 (Dkt. 80) with the assistance of counsel. The Government filed a response (Dkt. 81). That motion focused on the nature of the Minnesota offenses.

         While that motion was pending, Defendant filed a pro se motion for leave to file a supplemental brief on March 27, 2017 (Dkt. 84). This time, Defendant wished to bring a facial challenge to all § 851 enhancements; Defendant also stated that, despite his best efforts, he had been unable to get in touch with his attorney.

         This Court denied this second motion because Defendant was represented by counsel, but it ordered his attorney to either (i) file a motion based on Defendant's arguments or (ii) explain why such motion should not be filed (Dkt. 85). Counsel met with Defendant and submitted a motion raising the issues that Defendant raised in his March 27, 2017 pro se motion (Dkt. 88). The Government filed a response to that motion as well (Dkt. 90).

         The Court addresses these two motions in the order that they were filed. For the reasons that follow, both are denied.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion Objecting to Guidelines Calculations (Dkt. 80)

         By default, the mandatory minimum sentence for Defendant's instant crimes of conviction is 10 years. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). That same statute, however, provides that “[i]f any person commits such a violation 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 20 years . . . .” (Emphasis added.) A “felony drug offense” is defined by 21 U.S.C. § 802(44) as “an offense that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year under any law of the United States or of a State or foreign country that prohibits or restricts conduct relating to narcotic drugs, marihuana, anabolic steroids, or depressant or stimulant substances.”

         Defendant's alleged “prior conviction[s] for a felony drug offense” were committed in 1998 in Minnesota, in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.021, 152.023. See PSIR ¶ 34; see also 1/5/2015 Notice of Penalty Enhancement ¶ 5.

         To understand Defendant's argument, it is necessary to provide some background of the doctrine to which he analogizes his case. In Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243 (2016), the Supreme Court outlined how the so-called “categorical approach” should apply to a so-called “generic crime” listed in the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). The ACCA prescribes a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence (i.e., a five-year enhancement) if a defendant is convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm following three prior convictions for a “violent felony.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1). The ACCA defines the term “violent felony” to include any felony, whether state or federal, that “is burglary, arson, or extortion.” 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         As they are listed in the statute, the crimes of burglary, arson, or extortion are interpreted as the “generic” versions of the offenses. For example, the “generic” definition of burglary includes the following elements: “an unlawful or unprivileged entry into a building or other structure, with intent to commit a crime.” Mathis, 136 S.Ct. at 2248. In order to trigger the ACCA's violent-felony enhancement, then, a burglary conviction must necessarily - i.e., “categorically” - contain all of these elements. Even if a crime is labeled “burglary” by a state statute or court, if it is theoretically possible to commit the crime without satisfying all of the elements of generic burglary, a sentence cannot be enhanced based upon the prior conviction.

         A crime that can be committed either by (i) conduct satisfying the generic definition or (ii) conduct outside of the generic definition - for example, a burglary that also can be committed by entering a non-structure, such as a vehicle - is considered “broader” than the generic offense and not eligible for the enhancement based on the record of the conviction alone. See id. at 2251. This is because the fact of the conviction does not reflect exactly what conduct the defendant committed (i.e., whether it triggers the enhancement). The facts establishing that a generic crime was committed must be found beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury or admitted by the defendant before an enhancement can apply.

         Defendant argues that, under Mathis, and “categorical approach” jurisprudence, his prior convictions cannot be labeled “felony drug offenses, ” categorically speaking. He seeks to assign to the term “felony drug offense” a “generic” definition, and then establish that the Minnesota crimes were broader than that generic definition. See Defs. Obj. to Guidelines at 6 (“The ...

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