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Scott v. United States

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

August 31, 2017

AARON SCOTT, Plaintiff-Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant-Respondent. Civil No. 17-cv-10248

          ORDER DENYING MOTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255 TO VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE, ORDER DISMISSING CIVIL CASE NO. 17-CV-10248 AND ORDER DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          DENISE PAGE HOOD CHIEF JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 6, 2015, pursuant to a Rule 11 Plea Agreement (R. 557: Plea Agreement, PgID 4398), Petitioner Aaron Scott pled guilty to Counts Three and Four of the Fourth Superseding Indictment for: (a) possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C § 841(a)(1)(Count Three); and (b) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(Count Four). On January 14, 2016, Petitioner was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment on Count Three and a sixty month consecutive sentence on Count Four, for a total of seventy-two months of imprisonment. (R. 568: Judgment).

         On March 6, 2016, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal (R. 569: Notice of Appeal), and on April 14, 2016, the Sixth Circuit dismissed Petitioner's appeal at his request. (R. 580: Order of Dismissal, PgID 4512). On January 5, 2017, the Sixth Circuit dismissed Petitioner's appeal for a second time, again at Petitioner's request. (R. 596: Order of Dismissal, PgID 14727). Petitioner then filed a Section 2255 motion claiming that his possession of the firearm was not in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Petitioner also claims that the drugs (cocaine base) found at the house on Yonka Street were not packaged for sale and no drug dealing nexus between the drugs and the Yonka location existed. (R. 597: Motion to Vacate, PgID 4731-32; R. 594: Plea Hearing, PgID 4687). The Government filed a brief in response. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct the Sentence.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In his § 2255 motion, Petitioner alleges there was insufficient evidence as to his convictions for: (1) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; (2) possession with intent to distribute more than five grams of cocaine base; and (3) maintaining a drug-involved premises. Petitioner also alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, claiming that he should have been offered a minor-role reduction as part of the plea bargain.

         A. Standard of Review

         Section 2255 authorizes a federal prisoner to move the district court to vacate a sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Motions brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 are subject to a one-year limitations period established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Dunlap v. United States, 250 F.3d 1001, 1004-05 (6th Cir. 2001). The AEDPA established a one-year limitations period for § 2255 motions, generally running from “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1). When a movant does not pursue a direct appeal to the court of appeals, the conviction becomes final on the date the time for filing such an appeal expires. Sanchez-Castellano v. United States, 358 F.3d 424, 428 (6th Cir. 2004). In order to prevail on a § 2255 motion, a petitioner “must allege three bases: (1) an error of constitutional magnitude; (2) a sentence imposed outside of the statutory limits; or (3) an error of fact or law that was so fundamental as to render the entire proceeding invalid.” Weinberger v. United States, 268 F.3d 346, 351 (6th Cir. 2001).

         A court may not conduct a collateral review of a judgment where the issues for review have been decided on direct appeal. DuPont v. United States, 76 F.3d 108, 110-11 (6th Cir. 1996). A court also may not conduct a collateral review of an issue that has been procedurally defaulted by the defendant's failure to raise the grounds for review on direct appeal. Massaro v. United States, 530 U.S. 500, 504 (2003). Section 2255 is not a substitute for a direct appeal and a defendant cannot use it to circumvent the direct appeal process. United States v. Frady, 460 U.S. 152, 164-65 (1982); Elzy v. United States, 205 F.3d 882, 884 (6th Cir. 2000). Where a defendant fails to raise claims on direct appeal and attempts to raise them in a § 2255 motion, the defendant must show good cause for failure to raise the claims and establish prejudice or the defendant must show he or she is actually innocent. Regalado v. United States, 334 F.3d 520, 528 (6th Cir. 2003).

         B. Insufficiency of Evidence

         Defendants who claim insufficiency of the evidence bear a very heavy burden. United States v. Ray, 803 F.3d 244, 262-64 (6th Cir. 2015). A federal court must first “determine whether, viewing the trial testimony and exhibits in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Brown v. Konteh, 567 F.3d 191, 205 (6th Cir. 2009). Section 2255 is not a substitute for a direct appeal and a defendant cannot use it to circumvent the direct appeal process.

         I. ANALYSIS

         A. Possession of Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking

         Petitioner first claims that there was insufficient evidence as to the charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (R. 597: Motion to Vacate, PgID 4731). The term “in furtherance of, ” under § 924(c) is understood in its ordinary or natural meaning to consist of a “helping forward…advancement, [or] promotion, [therefore] the weapon must promote or facilitate the crime.” Ray, 803 F.3d at 262 (quoting United States v. Mackey, 265 F.3d 457, 460-61 (6th Cir. 2001)). Mere ...


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